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The impact of the TEF on our understanding, recording and measurement of teaching excellence: implications for policy and practice

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

In 2017, the UK government introduced the TEF (Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework) to assess the quality of undergraduate teaching at universities and colleges and to raise the importance of teaching excellence when rating universities. The exercise is aimed higher education providers in England, but universities and colleges from other jurisdictions of the UK can choose to participate. The TEF uses a range to metrics to assess teaching excellence, and ranks institutions as Gold, Silver and Bronze. Future plans for the TEF include the introduction of a subject-level TEF and the extension of the exercise to postgraduate provision.

As the government engages in a full review of the TEF (expected publication of report in the summer of 2019), this SRHE seminar explores the impact of the TEF on our understanding, recording and measurement of teaching excellence. In the seminar, three presenters will share their research into the TEF and teaching excellence more broadly. Senior leaders with responsibility for TEF in their institutions will act as respondents to those papers and there will be ample time for participants to ask questions and to explore the implications of the TEF for policy and practice in small groups and with the panel.


The TEF and its Critiques: unearthing the policy pillars of employability, student consumerism and the measured market
Dr Michael Tomlinson, University of Southampton

There has been quite extensive critical analysis of the TEF as both an efficacious tool to enhance student experience and ideological policy technology which affirms the marketization of higher education. This talk examines how the TEF has been appraised within such literature in terms of conceptualising student experience and wider sets of institutional relations. Drawing largely upon a critical policy analysis, the talk analyses three dominant policy pillars which have emerged as central in recent HE reforms – the student-as-consumer, graduate employability and formal ranked measurements. These operate not only as organising principles of the TEF framework and a basis for appraising institutions’ market performance, but also contain a set of framings on the institutional-cultural conditions that best serve key stakeholders’ interests within the current HE reform project.


Understanding students’ conceptualisations of teaching excellence
Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka, University of Edinburgh

The TEF has created ripple effects across the UK higher education sector by increasing debate concerning different conceptualisations of teaching excellence. The aims of the TEF include supporting prospective and current students to achieve positive outcomes in graduate-level employment or further study (Office for Students, 2019). While student voice is incorporated into certain TEF metrics, much can be learnt about students’ perceptions of excellence in teaching and student support through open-ended, student-led teaching award nominations. This presentation will initially describe five conceptualisations of teaching excellence based on the work of Skelton (2007), MacFarlane (2007) and Kreber (2007) before focusing on recent qualitative research to better understand students’ views of this concept. The study included nearly 3,000 free-text teaching award nominations submitted during one academic year by students across twenty academic schools at one research-intensive university. The thematic analysis identified four key themes of teaching excellence: 1) concerted, visible effort; 2) commitment to engaging students; 3) breaking down student-teacher barriers; and 4) stability of support. This presentation explores these themes with respect to theoretical conceptualisations of teaching excellence and suggests that students’ perceptions advance notions of critical excellence and moral excellence. Implications are then explored regarding how to record and measure student/staff partnerships as well as other strong working relationships and learning communities that excellent teachers build with students.


Discourses of Teaching Excellence
Dr Steven Jones, University of Manchester

When it comes to University teaching, the extent to which national policy can shape front line practice is limited. Individual academics can be recalcitrant, mobilising their perceived 'freedoms' and agency to resist. Individual institutions – though more compliant – can also interrupt policy at the point of enactment. In such a context, language becomes crucial. The TEF offers a unique insight into how competing discourses vie for primacy in a contemporary Higher Education system. Drawing on a range of sources, from policy documents to social media, I explore how different actors are positioned within discourses, how 'common sense' is framed, and how good-will and buy-in are secured (or not). The argument is made that as policy pushes the sector towards more market-driven definitions of 'excellence', alternative ways of talking about University teaching are needed


These papers will be responded to by discussants:

Dr Sal Jarvis, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education and Student Experience) at the University of Hertfordshire (UH). As PVC Sal is responsible for strategic leadership of the Education strand of the University’s Strategic Plan. She plays a key role in developing learning and teaching at the university, as well as in growing staff-student partnership. She worked closely with staff and the Students Union to prepare UH’s submission to the TEF, which was ranked Gold in 2018.

Professor Malcolm Todd, Provost (Academic) at the University of Derby. Malcolm is committed to making sure Derby’s students have an excellent learning experience and seeks out opportunities for growth and enhancement. He led the TEF exercise at Derby, which was ranked Gold in 2017. Malcolm is a TEF Pilot Subject Assessor.


Presenter biographies:

Dr Michael Tomlinson is Associate Professor within Southampton Education School at the University of Southampton. His research is located broadly within the sociology of education and work, particularly in relation to the changing context and nature of work and its impact on people's identities and approaches to work and careers. More specific research interests lie in the higher education and labour market interplay and the social construction of ‘graduate employability'. Within this area, his research has explored transitions from higher education to work and how employability is constructed and managed by students and graduates. 

Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka is a PhD Candidate at the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh. Her doctoral research focuses on the ways in which student engagement and co-creation of the curriculum advance students’ and staff members’ aims in higher education. Tanya previously worked at Edinburgh University Students’ Association, advancing academic representation and quality enhancement of learning and teaching through supporting students’ professional development and facilitating recognition of excellent staff through student-led Teaching Awards. She is currently finishing her PhD and working at Moray House School of Education as the Partnerships and Professional Learning Coordinator. Recent publications focus on student perceptions of teaching excellence, benefits and challenges of co-creation of the curriculum, and how student/staff partnerships in curriculum development can advance notions of Third Space in higher education.

Dr Steven Jones is a Senior Lecturer at the Manchester Institute of Education, which is part of The University of Manchester. He previously worked for the University of Central Lancashire, Birmingham City University and Coventry University. He created the University of Manchester’s PGCert in Higher Education and is currently Director of Postgraduate Research for his School. Steven conducts research into policy and practice in post-compulsory education. He has recently co-authored reports for the Sutton Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and HEFCE that explore how socially disadvantaged young people conceptualise, engage with and perform at university. He is particularly interested in how students’ cultural and social capital affects their HE experience, from application to employment. 

Network: Higher Education Policy
Date(s): Wednesday, 18 September 2019
Times: 11:00 - 16:00
Location: SRHE, 73 Collier St, London N1 9BE
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The impact of the TEF on our understanding, recording and measurement of teaching excellence: implic
Discourses of Teaching Excellence
The impact of the TEF on our understanding, recording and measurement of teaching excellence: implications for policy and practice
Student´s Concept of TEF
Understanding Students’ Conceptualisations of Teaching Excellence
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