AUA Blog Subject Level TEF – is it really measuring the right things?

Nothing is more exciting than sitting on an overcrowded and dirty train reflecting on how some organisations with poor approval ratings seem to continue unabashed whilst the University sector, a jewel in the economic and cultural crown of the country, gets landed with subject-level TEF.  This is the pilot of a new approach to – so the government theory goes – recognise and drive up teaching quality by providing information to students to help them differentiate between universities.


Now, to my mind, seeking to drive up quality is a good idea and one that is widely supported in the sector. I think everyone recognises that students do invest substantial sums (but also substantial time).  Providing students with better information and advice on how to use it can only be positive; they can learn more about their intended or current institutions and make decisions accordingly. It has the genuine potential to put them at the heart of the system (if they aren’t already). That said, the sector already has a substantial track record of developing quality regimes that measure excellence and ensure quality outcomes for students. Our universities didn’t become world-beating by accident, so is subject-level TEF really necessary?

Undeniably, we could do more. More to help students understand feedback, more consideration of how students are supported by professional and academic colleagues, and of course more focus on value for money. But there is a risk here that headline-drunk politicians are dumbing down the very notion of teaching excellence and creating frameworks that assess metrics that are insufficiently nuanced to capture the quality of a student’s experience at university. Moreover, if the metrics are flawed, can decisions based upon them also be anything other than flawed?

The pilot subject-level TEF considers assessment, continuation (progressing to the next year of study), graduate employment outcomes and a variety of other factors. It also introduces two new ones: teaching intensity (which measures contact hours) and grade inflation.