TEF Pfft

You’ll have noticed we haven’t talked TEF for some long time now (I did some posts a way back (here and here)).

That’s largely because there’s no much more to say.

For those of you outside the UK (and possibly for some of you in it), TEF is the Teaching Excellence Framework, the government’s bright idea to balance out the traditional focus on research with a more explicit evaluation of the teaching side of universities.

The first set of results came out a couple of weeks ago, with a subsequent blossoming of gold across institutional websites.

In a not-at-all-surprising outcome, places that are good at research are not always the ones that are good at teaching.

I know.

Actually, that’s a false statement, since TEF doesn’t really measure teaching. Instead, it measures student satisfaction, completion rates and employability. All things that can be gamed with zero reference to teaching qua teaching.

As I’ve observed in my previous posts, it’s a means of measuring something with what comes easily to hand, rather than with something that actually measures the thing you’re interested in.

Now I say this, sat in an institution that did extremely well in these rankings, and I’m doubtless going to make something of that when we next talk to applicants, but since it holds true that TEF is a very poor proxy for teaching quality. If we’re good then it’s not because we’ve targeted those metrics.

This has been a consistent message from those in more operational teaching roles for some years now and it’s got us no closer to a change in approach. Perhaps new metrics will emerge, but that will take time and effort, neither of which the current British government has much of right now.

The big question will be whether and how the different interests try to take control of this agenda. In the tussle between government and universities, perhaps it is incumbent upon people like us to provide evidence and analysis to help inform debate, even if that does seem a bit thankless.

And for those of overseas, who think you’ve escaped this, just remember what happened with REF…