The government has announced that it will create a new Olympic-style league table for universities, ranking them bronze, silver or gold based on teaching quality. They will be available for students applying to start university in autumn 2017.
The new ratings form part of the government’s Teaching excellence framework (Tef) and will come into being in mid-2017, with universities given a year’s grace period before the rankings dictate their ability to raise tuition fees.
According to the Department of Education, which has taken over responsibility for administering the framework, the Tef panel will award a gold ranking to a university if it offers “outstanding levels of stretch that ensure all students are significantly challenged to achieve their full potential.” A gold ranking will also require students to be “frequently engaged with developments from the forefront of research, scholarship or practice”.
Meanwhile, a silver ranking will be awarded to universities offering courses with “high levels of stretch that ensure all students are significantly challenged,” whilst bronze rankings will be reserved for universities where “provision is of satisfactory quality” but where “the provider is likely to be significantly below benchmark in one or more areas.”
Universities minister Jo Johnson has claimed that the framework “will give students clear, understandable information about where the best teaching is on offer and for the first time place teaching quality on a par with research at our universities”.
From 2018, the ratings will determine which universities will be allowed to raise their tuition fees by the rate of inflation. The first stage of the Tef allows universities to raise their fees from next year, and all participating universities will be able to raise them again the following year.
Although Vice-Chancellors are unlikely to be happy with the rating system, they will be relieved by the one-year grace period, which allows them breathing space by preventing the new fees framework from coming into force whilst they are still struggling with the impact of Brexit on student recruitment.
President of lobby group Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Kent University Julia Goodfellow commented: “The revised timetable is helpful and we are pleased there will be evaluation and piloting before moving into the next phases of the Tef.
“The challenge for government, and the university sector, will be to develop a single framework that can respond effectively to the tremendous diversity within our higher education system, throughout the UK.”
The rankings, which will last for up to three years, will be awarded by a panel of assessors. They will be based on data and statistics including student satisfaction survey results, dropout rates and graduate employment rates – including the percentage of graduates who go on to work in high-skill jobs. Critics of the new scheme have been quick to point out that none of the indicators directly or accurately measure the quality of teaching.
After the first year of operation, an assessment will be carried out by “experts in teaching and learning as well as student representatives, employer representatives and widening participation experts”.
The Department of Education also announced that universities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were eligible to opt in to the Tef and receive ratings, although the ratings will only affect funding for universities located in England.