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The TEF may not be perfect -- but it's still worth going for gold

As the latest Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) results are published, Sue Reece, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) at Staffordshire University, says the efforts her institution made to move up from a Silver to a Gold award were worth it, despite flaws in the TEF methodology.


In common with the 64 other universities and providers across the UK who re-applied for their TEF award (we were awarded silver in 2017), I waited with nervous anticipation to press the access button at 9:30am on Monday morning to receive our embargoed result.

I was delighted that  Staffordshire University was awarded a Gold under what has, I am pleased to say, been renamed the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework - as like many of my colleagues in Higher Education I have long since argued that it is in fact “student outcomes” that are being measured as a  proxy for teaching excellence.

This may be the first of a number of changes for the TEF depending on the outcome of the current DFE review, chaired by Dame Shirley Pierce, who at feedback sessions is giving very little away other than to say she is listening. We expect that providers will continue to be judged against a combination of benchmarked metrics relating to student satisfaction, graduate outcomes and employability alongside a provider written submission.

There may be flaws in the current methodology, and indeed I have stood at consultation sessions and argued how important it is that contextual data is taken into account; that the role modern universities play in widening access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and the impact we have on social mobility and local economic development should not be lost within the recommendations from the review.

I do however believe, that regardless of any imperfections, the outcome we achieved this week at Staffordshire University is recognition of our brilliant and friendly staff and students, and their desire and commitment to work in partnership to make a real difference to the student experience.

It was gratifying to read that the TEF panel recognised our high level of student satisfaction, specifically with “teaching on my course”, assessment and feedback, and academic support, and that we achieved high rates of progression to highly skilled employment or further study.  Recognition was given to the measures we had put in place to ease transition for disadvantaged and under-represented student groups and secure high levels of engagement and active commitment to study through our Student Journey Project.

This cross-University project, co-developed with our Students’ Union, addresses the  complex needs of disadvantaged groups in order to enhance the student experience and improve retention and student outcomes.  It includes a range of initiatives, also highlighted in our TEF outcome statement, such as our Quiet Induction developed to support the increasing number of students declaring mental health issues or with an Autism Spectrum disorder, the Step-up to HE programme for harder to reach learners, and the  development of a 24/7 sticky campus. Our dedicated Student Hub and our on-line digital coach Beacon, which aims to improve the experience for the 56 per cent of our students who commute daily to the University, are also part of our commitment to put students first.

There will be naysayers and dismissers but, for anyone who is in doubt of the real value of a TEF gold, all they need to do is read the positive comments I received from our students and staff on hearing the news. It ranged from “What brilliant news, this is such a big achievement for us in the University” and “how fantastic that our project has been recognised” to simply “Wow!!!”

This award matters to them and it is an important that their passion and commitment is recognised.

I must admit as that Gold logo appeared on the screen, I took a deep breath, had a little dance around the room and thought I’m “proud to be Staffs”!