TEF: from consultation to implementation (Professor Stephanie Marshall, HEA)

The Government’s Higher Education White Paper and Technical Consultation for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) Year Two have quite rightly ignited discussion and debate in the sector. As the HEA has a heritage and focus on teaching quality and excellence, I felt it would be helpful to offer a forum for different perspectives on the White Paper and I hope this article will help us as a sector as we move from consultation towards implementation.

The HEA welcomes the White Paper as a significant catalyst to rebalancing and reinvigorating HE’s focus toward teaching and research-informed teaching.

In late Spring 2015, anticipating the need for the sector to be working closely in informing the debate on teaching quality and the possibility of a Teaching Excellence Framework, the HEA established a working group of over 50 Pro-Vice-Chancellors, representing a cross section of universities, to help inform the Government’s Green Paper.

We are pleased that a number of suggestions made by members of the HEA’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Network have had influence on BIS thinking underpinning White Paper policy. These include a reduction in TEF levels from four to three to avoid undue complexity, the inclusion of Commendations to further acknowledge and encourage distinctive approaches to excellence and the inclusion of qualitative evidence as a wrap-around narrative in support of TEF submissions – something the HEA has argued from the outset.

As the national independent body dedicated to raising the quality and status of teaching, we are particularly heartened that the contribution of reward and recognition strategies aligned to high quality delivery and an emphasis on initial and continuing professional development are highlighted as contributors to institutional and individual excellence.

While the White Paper represents a seismic change for the HE sector, with regard to the TEF, many of the institutions we are working with will already be well-placed to gather compelling evidence for their submissions. The proposed assessment criteria for teaching quality (pp.13-14) suggests that ‘Evidence might include initial and continuing professional development for teaching and academic support staff, reward and recognition, promotion and progression opportunities, and the level of experience and contractual status of staff involved in teaching .’ The number of teaching staff recognised as Fellows of the HEA is now fast approaching more than 75,000, approximately one third of all academic staff in the UK, and more than 120 institutions have HEA accredited CPD programmes. More importantly, we have recently established a clear and statistically significant link between HEA Fellowships and student engagement.

The TEF technical consultation lists a number of criteria and examples that institutions should consider in their submission.  These include: ‘professional development for teaching and academic support staff’, ‘reward and recognition’, ‘the impact and effectiveness of assessment and feedback metrics on student progression and attainment’, maximising rates of student retention’ ‘evidence and impact of initiatives aimed at maximising graduate employability’, and evidencing student engagement with their studies through mechanisms such as the UK Engagement Survey (UKES).  These are all areas in which The Higher Education Academy has the experience, knowledge and specialist expertise to support HE providers.

Most institutions accept that expectations of teaching quality have risen dramatically in recent years.  In part, this is a result of the very real financial investment now made by students in their studies. They graduate into a highly competitive job market and a good university will not only help them develop the employability attitudes and aptitudes and, where appropriate, specific skills they need throughout their careers but also the rounded knowledge and worldview  we would all wish them to have to contribute positively to modern society.

But higher expectations of teaching are also being driven by higher expectations of our universities themselves. Right now, our institutions are arguably among the best in the world – which is why they are so attractive to so many young people from overseas who journey here to study.

As a body of and for the sector, the HEA looks forward to working with institutions to further enhance the global reputation of UK HE teaching – from continuing the unprecedented growth in HEA Fellowships which is a hallmark of the UK sector’s pioneering work in this space, through to provision of our UKES survey and benchmarking, to working directly with the sector on the development of the assessment of teaching excellence at discipline level.

Stephanie Marshall joined the Higher Education Academy (HEA) in 2012 and has been Chief Executive since August 2013.

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