Everything you need to know about the Teaching Excellence Framework

Everything you need to know about the Teaching Excellence Framework
The TEF is used as a tool to measure and recognise excellent undergraduate teaching at higher education institutions across UK. Source: Shutterstock

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has emerged as a controversial topic since the release of its ratings in June, with many universities sceptical of its reliability in assessing teaching quality.

Many of the United Kingdom’s leading universities failed to obtain the highest awards, with just eight out of 21 institutions from the elite Russell Group awarded the “Gold” rating.

After the release, a Hobsons survey revealed many international students are confused over several aspects of the TEF, with only 21.2 percent reporting an understanding of the scheme.

However, despite this misunderstanding, the survey surprisingly revealed most of these students would still use the TEF ratings when deciding on a university.

So, what IS the TEF?

Only eight of the 21 Russell Group universities received ‘gold’ rating. Source: Shutterstock

The TEF is a new scheme developed by England’s Education Department as a tool to measure and recognise excellent undergraduate teaching at higher education institutions across the country. As reported by The Guardian, the government felt universities have been too focused on research and decided to redress the balance in favour of teaching.

The TEF provides information for prospective students to decide where to study. It is a voluntary scheme, with each higher education provider allowed to decide whether or not to participate.

Participants then receive either a gold, silver or bronze award upon evaluation, reflecting the excellence of their teaching, learning environment and student outcomes.

The ratings are as follows:

TEF rating


Gold Consistently outstanding
Silver High quality, and significantly and consistently exceeds the
baseline quality threshold expected of UK Higher Education
Bronze Satisfactory quality
Provisional The university or college is taking part in the TEF but does not                                     yet have sufficient data to be fully assessed

How are the awards decided?

Whether a university receives a gold, silver or bronze award is decided by an independent TEF panel of experts comprising of academics, students and employer representatives.

The undergraduate teaching of a participating university is assessed against 10 criteria that cover measures such as teaching quality, learning environment and student outcomes.

The panel considers evidence from a set of metrics which include continuation rates and student satisfaction. National data is used as well as written evidence submitted by the provider. The metrics for each university are benchmarked in order to take into account the differences in student characteristics for each university. This is in order to avoid penalising universities for accepting more disadvantaged students, who tend to have poorer graduate outcomes and higher dropout rates.

The metrics and provider submissions can be viewed here by browsing the participating providers and their TEF awards.

Choosing a university

Are you thinking about which universities and courses to apply for? Now you have a better understanding of the TEF, here’s how you can use it when deciding which university to choose.

Make the right moves. Source: Shutterstock

  • The TEF ratings can offer a quick insight into how a university’s teaching has been rated
  • Alongside each TEF rating will be a report on why the rating was awarded, which provides applicants helpful knowledge about that particular university’s teaching standards
  • The TEF provides a vast amount of rich and detailed data about the experiences and results of students at UK universities, giving applicants important factors to consider when deciding on a university. However, one pitfall is that this detail can be overlooked in the broad, headline-grabbing titles of Gold, Silver and Bronze, which may lead students to make quick judgements without looking further into the potentially helpful data that lies beneath these titles

Thus, despite its usefulness, it is vital to consider the potential downsides of using the TEF when deciding on a university.

  • The TEF sets different targets for different universities, meaning each school has a different set of benchmarks to meet for it to be awarded a certain rating. Therefore, the results for different universities should not be directly compared.
  • It is also important to note the ratings are awarded at an entire university level. This is pretty broad. As a prospective student, it would be helpful to delve into the details of the assessment in order to find out specifics for your course, which could vary quite significantly.

Therefore, just because a university has a Gold rating does not necessarily mean it is the right place for you.

Similarly, a university awarded a Bronze should not mean you disregard it entirely.

Rather than making judgments on universities based solely on TEF ratings, students should use the ratings alongside other important factors (such as location, fees, and accommodation), which are also important to consider when determining higher education choices. Advice on how to get started in making these important decisions can be found here.

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