Jo Johnson announces changes to the TEF

From today’s WonkHE blog:

“Last week a series of important changes to future iterations of the Teaching Excellence Framework were announced by Jo Johnson in his speech at the Universities UK annual conference. The headline change is the halving of the weight allocated to National Student Survey metrics, something which arguably diminishes the role of the student voice in the exercise and relegates the metrics most related to actual ‘teaching’. The relative impact of employment outcomes has increased by adding the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) earnings data as a supplementary metric.

One of TEF’s key strengths, and its strongest advantage over league tables, is the benchmarking process comparing an institution’s performance against students with similar characteristics. This is essentially the tool which allows ‘excellence’ to be recognised wherever it’s found, not just confirming the prestige of the oldest and most research-intensive universities which attract the students with the highest entry tariff. In addition to adding LEO as a supplementary metric, TEF assessors will be told when an institution has scored in the top or bottom 10% of any measure. While used in addition to the core metrics, the inclusion in the process of these absolute measures diminishes the case that TEF adds value to what can be found in league tables and could make the judging process even more subjective.

Tweaks have also been made to find a way of providing NSS scores in cases where the NUS-led boycott meant that some institutions and courses didn’t meet the normal threshold. The message to disappointed boycotters is clear: the government will always find a way to fudge the numbers no matter what you do. There is welcome news for majority part-time providers as a new approach will allow them to supplement their submission with additional data better contextualising their position. This is a change made to encourage the Open University to take part in TEF next time, having sat out the first process.

It doesn’t take the most expert of data wonks to see that these overall changes are likely to benefit London-based institutions through the diminishing role of NSS and the inclusion of salary data. The changes should also benefit some Russell Group institutions which have high absolute scores but are under-performing against the benchmark. As we have seen throughout TEF’s development, there has been a consistent slide away from data to the qualitative elements and the judgement of the panel, something which – as seen in some perverse results from TEF2 – means that those who play the game best will do well, not necessarily those with the most excellent teaching.

Also new for TEF is a measure designed to tackle grade inflation. This may not be surprising to readers of the summer’s newspapers, but it may alarm some in the sector to see in black and white the lack of confidence in institutions’ standards. Future TEFs will reward institutions which are judged to have made efforts to keep a lid on increasing Firsts and Upper Seconds, something at odds with the league tables.”

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