The key ways international students judge UK universities' teaching quality
How do prospective international students judge teaching quality? Source: Antenna on Unsplash

The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (or TEF) rates the quality of undergraduate teaching in English universities as Gold, Silver or Bronze.

The UK Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, believed it was a good idea for the TEF to copy the national research excellence framework (Ref) which determines how much universities should be rewarded for high quality research. The TEF is to be the teaching quality equivalent to incentivise universities to improve. Institutions that receive gold or silver ratings will be accorded the chance to raise tuition fees in 2020.

While this sounds good thus far, the TEF has been mired in controversy over how it decides what kind of teaching is good or bad. An expert panel uses a selection of metrics as well as written submission from the universities to evaluate teaching individually benchmarked against the types of student who attend their respective institutions.

The metrics are:

  • Teaching on my course (from the National Student Survey)
  • Assessment and feedback (from the National Student Survey)
  • Academic support (from the National Student Survey)
  • Non-continuation (from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and Individualised Learner Record data)
  • Employment or further study (from the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey)
  • Highly skilled-employment or further study (from the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey)

Universities minister Jo Johnson made the introduction of the TEF a priority when he was holding the portfolio. Source: Shutterstock

While this may be a workable set of metrics for local students, international students come with a separate understanding of what constitutes quality teaching.

And international students do take the TEF seriously as they depend considerably more on rankings when choosing which prospective UK institution they’d like to attend.

So what are the top factors prospective international students consider to be most important when assessing a university’s teaching quality? The recent International Students Survey 2018 from QS Enrolment Solutions (formerly Hobsons) found the following:

Factors % of respondents placing
each item in their top five
Up-to-date technology 65
The university’s teaching staff 64
The university has received recognition of its
teaching quality via a country-wide
measurement scheme
The university is ranked well overall in
independent ratings
A high graduate employment rate 54
The university organises work placements
as part of its courses
High volume of face-to-face teaching hours 49
The university responds quickly to my
enquiries / emails
High graduate starting salaries 29
Good online learning options 21

The survey is the largest analysis of pre-enrolment for international and EU students; 67,172 students and 63 universities worldwide took part in the survey, producing responses from 28,020 prospective international students used for the report.

This year’s survey included the option ‘The university has received recognition of its teaching
quality via a country-wide measurement scheme’ to reflect the potential impact of initiatives like TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) in the UK and QILT (Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching) in Australia.

“The results show that prospective students consider performance in such country-wide measurement schemes as a bigger indicator of teaching quality than performing well in some forms of rankings and league tables.”

QS Enrolment Solutions notes that this year’s survey results differ from its recent survey of prospective domestic students in the UK. While international students ranked teaching staff highly, domestic students place far less importance on the teaching staff, focusing instead on other factors such as graduate outcomes.

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