Does the TEF helps international students decide where to study?
Gold medals matter. Source: Shutterstock

A recent survey by UK admissions service UCAS found that only 17.1 percent of would-be undergraduates understood what the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) was about.

Among those residing outside the UK, fewer than one in 10 applicants knew what it was – only 9.4 percent of EU-domiciled and 9.8 percent of non-EU applicants are aware of the TEF.

With so little awareness, the TEF – heralded for its “vital role to play in informing students’ choices about what and where to study” – appears to take a backseat in students’ decision-making process.

The TEF refers to government-assessed ratings that measure UK universities across three areas: teaching quality, learning environment, student outcomes and learning gain. It is a means to be used from 2020, ultimately deciding whether the UK government should allow an institution to raise fees.

Institutions are rated as below: 

  • Gold: “provision is consistently outstanding and of the highest quality found in the UK Higher Education sector”
  • Silver: “provision is of high quality, and significantly and consistently exceeds the baseline quality threshold expected of UK Higher Education”
  • Bronze: “provision is of satisfactory quality”

The TEF’s critics are many, stating it draws “meaningless results ‘devoid of credibility'” for its focus on an unfair and unreliable system and for attempting to measure the unmeasurable, condensing the whole teaching student experience of a university into a three-medal rating.

UCAS’s survey findings reveal another yet unfixed flaw of the TEF: Lack of awareness.

Given the high cost universities and taxpayers have contributed for the rankings, it’s hardly making ripples or being of great help to the current and would-be student population, local or otherwise.

QS Enrolment Solution’s International Student Survey 2018 found that from 2017 – where awareness of the TEF stood at 22 percent – there hasn’t been an increase since and has instead stabilised at a relatively low level.

It should be noted that this isn’t just due a lack of interest from students, but rather a total lack of awareness. They have no idea what it is, what it means and how it has anything to do with them.

The question that arises now is why?

According to the QS Enrolment Solutions survey, it could be due to the lack of explanation directed towards international students. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (61 percent) felt the TEF has not been well explained to international students like themselves.

It’s a shame because the survey also found that once international students knew more about the ratings, they considered it to be of high importance, with the impact of a Gold TEF remaining very strong between 2017 and 2018, and the impact of a Silver or Bronze having grown in the last year.

Prospective Nigerian and Singaporean students show the most preference for a university with a TEF rating over a university which is ranked 25th or higher, although those from China, Hong Kong and Ireland are all more likely to choose a university ranked 25th or higher than a Gold, Silver or Bronze TEF rating.

“I am hugely encouraged to see that students and applicants are already using the TEF to inform their decision about where to study,” said Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah.

Student Finance expert Jake of Save The Student laments the lack of information students are receiving about the TEF:

“Students are being kept in the dark, and I think the excuse currently given is that nothing is set in stone – but by the time it is, it’ll be too late to do anything about it and students will have to pay the consequences (and this also hasn’t stopped unis from already advertising higher fees).”

“The TEF could be a great tool if it was used appropriately, but from what I can see, it’s being abused as an excuse to increase tuition fees, and that’s appalling.”

Interestingly, Universities Minister Sam Gyimah is saying quite the opposite. In a post by the UK’s Department of Education, Gyimah is quoted as saying that the TEF is “already being used” by students and applicants in “informing their decision about where to study”.

Liked this? Then you’ll love these…

Everything you need to know about the Teaching Excellence Framework

The key ways international students judge UK universities’ teaching quality