Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
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Next steps for reforming the TEF and ensuring teaching excellence in HE

Morning, Friday, 25th June 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference focuses on the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework following the completion of the Independent Review.

The discussion comes in the wake of the Government’s response to the Review in January, endorsing several of its recommendations, including the discontinuation of subject-level assessments, a move to periodic assessment, the four aspects of quality proposed by the Review, and the four-tier rating system, as well as improving the robustness of the measurements.

It is also taking place in the context of the Future of the TEF review by the OfS, expected to take place this Spring to develop a new framework.

We are pleased to welcome a keynote address by Graeme Rosenberg, TEF Manager, Office for Students, on the outlook for the Framework following the Independent Review.

 The agenda will bring out latest thinking on:

  • the new TEF timeline and reducing administrative burden
  • standards and teaching excellence in remote learning
  • provider-level assessments and changes in ratings
  • the future for measuring excellence, outcomes, and student satisfaction, and incentivising academic rigour

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from the Department for the Economy, NI and the National Audit Office.

Key discussion areas:

Implementing the recommendations of Independent Review - looking at the proposals and government response, the OfS consultation, and priorities for reforming TEF in light of current pressures on providers

The TEF timeline - as well as the implications of changes to HEIs, measurements and prospective students, including:

  • moving from annual to periodic assessment - with discussion on:
    • the implications of a slower cycle on the incentives HEIs have to perform well
    • guarding against possible gaming of the system
    • the outlook for making the transition, and evaluating the effect on institutions’ internal arrangements, staffing levels and organisational priorities
  • administrative burden:
    • the role of TEF and other HE frameworks in contributing to bureaucratic burden
    • assessing HEIs’ resource capacity in time for the next round of TEF
    • how best to ensure accurate and meaningful regulation without overly burdening providers
  • student choice:
    • ensuring prospective students have accurate and up-to-date information on HEIs performance
    • possible impact of lack of annual data on this, with options for smaller scale measurements to support the admissions process
    • the future role of TEF in informing student choice

Provider-level assessments:

  • national metrics and provider submissions:
    • balancing between using metrics and written submissions to inform initial provider ratings
    • improving opportunities for providers to explain gaps in data, their distinctive educational mission and specific value
  • regional and contextual variations:
    • controlling for regional differences when measuring graduate outcomes for HEIs
    • options for dovetailing with other recent policy on HEIs’ regional and local impacts
  • four-level rating system:
    • balancing between measuring varying degrees of excellence and comparing institutions with different educational missions
    • the impact of the new rating system on communicating the quality of UK HEIs abroad in comparison to the previous Olympic-style rating
    • naming the new ratings
  • subject-level TEF:
    • options for integrating subject-level evaluations into provider-level assessments
    • their role in prompting internal enhancement and raising standards amongst HEIs
    • next steps for improving the statistical validity of subject-level measurements

Developments around measuring teaching excellence, student satisfaction and outcomes:

  • remote and blended learning - looking at the potential use post-pandemic and the implications of increased use on measuring teaching excellence going forward:
    • defining differences in expectations in remote learning when compared to in-person learning
    • impact on measuring student satisfaction and academic experience
    • the potential role of TEF in driving up standards in remote learning, and dovetailing with the recommendations from the recent OfS review on digital learning in HE
  • the four aspects of assessment:
    • defining the new measurements - which are: educational gains; teaching and learning environment; student academic experience; and graduate outcomes
    • graduate outcomes - best practice for their measurement in the immediate post-pandemic economic landscape, and dovetailing with recent policy on driving up the quality of skills imparted to HE graduates
    • the proposed ‘educational gains’ assessment - assessing its implications on how the value of the HE sector is understood, looking at:
      • the potential for considering cultural and scholarly contributions in the evaluation of the quality of HE providers, balanced with appreciating differences in various providers’ missions and aims as institutions in terms of focusing more on skills and graduate employment or on academic achievement
      • the impact of changes in assessment on the understanding of student consumer rights
  • student satisfaction - the impact of the pandemic on measures of student satisfaction and the university experience, including:
    • balancing judgements on the quality of providers with what can reasonably be expected
    • the NSS review and the future role of the survey in the TEF
    • balancing measures of student experience with guarding against lowering standards around academic achievement

Relevant developments:

  • OfS Review of the National Student Survey (NSS) - with the recently published Phase one report:

  • findings:

    • finding that while the NSS was valued there was a level of survey fatigue from students, and academic staff reported chasing improvement in scores as a significant burden
    • reporting no evidence of systematic issues regarding grade inflation, lowering standards or gaming the survey, with students experiencing high levels of intellectual stimulation
  • recommendations:

    • that the core survey questions be reviewed to ensure they are fit for purpose
    • that the guidance on responsible use of the results be improved
    • an examination of the alternatives to the survey format, with possible replacements including large stratified samples and biennial surveys
  • setting out plans for a consultation on new questions for the survey
  • the Independent Review of the Teaching Excellence Framework - led by Dame Shirley Pearce, which made recommendations for its improvement, including:
    • addressing concerns around the management and communication of statistical uncertainty - including in terms of the use of small datasets, and making relative and absolute comparisons
    • incorporating subject-level ratings into provider-level assessments - finding that this data had stimulated enhanced standards amongst HE providers, despite added burden and statistical issues
    • moving to a four-point rating system of varying levels of excellence
    • for the TEF to measure four aspects of quality: Teaching and Learning Environment; Student Satisfaction; Educational Gains; and Graduate Outcomes
  • Government response to the Independent Review of TEF:
    • all forms of subject-level assessments to be discontinued at this time in light of the statistical issues and to relieve the administrative burden placed on providers by TEF
    • a move from an annual to a periodic TEF exercise to take place every 4 to 5 years
    • the four aspects of quality proposed by the Review, but with Student Academic Experience replacing Student Satisfaction to guard against compromising academic rigour
    • the four-tier rating system proposed in the Review
    • improving the robustness of measurements - and for the Framework to better consider contextual qualitative information as well as regional variation in relation to graduate employment
  • Future of the TEF - the upcoming OfS consultation on a new TEF framework, with the expected publication of assessments due in September 2022
  • Findings from the second subject-level pilot 2018-19 - that a model for robustly measuring subject-level ratings in HE does not yet exist, due to missing metrics or data from small cohorts
  • Gravity assist - the recent OfS review into digital teaching in higher education examining key lessons learned from digital learning during the pandemic and recommending that, going forward:
    • online learning does not seek to replicate in-person lectures and tutorials but is informed by pedagogy adapted to digital delivery
    • staff are provided with the right resources and skills to enable them to teach effectively
  • Further recent policy developments in the HE sector, including:
    • Reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education - the recent policy paper, including the DfE working with OfS to ensure the regulatory system is proportionate through reduced monitoring and cutting down on unnecessary bureaucracy
    • the Higher Education Restructuring Regime (HERR) - with requirements for providers facing insolvency due to the pandemic and seeking financial support from the government to:
      • strip back unnecessary bureaucracy
      • boost the quality of their courses and skills imparted on their graduates
      • ensure their provision is aligned with economic and societal needs and benefits their local areas

The agenda:

  • Outlook for the Teaching Excellence Framework following the Independent Review
  • The new TEF timeline - transition from annual to periodic assessment, reducing administrative burden, and impact on providing credible and up-to-date assessments to inform student choice
  • Provider-level assessments - regional variations and contextual considerations, metrics and written submissions, the four-level rating system, and incorporating subject-level measurements
  • Driving up standards and supporting teaching excellence in remote and blended learning
  • Measuring teaching excellence, student satisfaction and outcomes - the four aspects of assessment, reviewing the NSS, and balancing between university experience and incentivising academic rigour

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Department for the Economy, NI and the National Audit Office.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from regulators involved in higher education, university and college leaders, higher education professionals, student representatives, careers advisers, graduate employers, businesses and their advisors, EdTech providers, local authorities, representatives of citizen and interest groups, academics, together with reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speakers

James Clay

Head of Higher Education and Student Experience, Jisc

Graeme Rosenberg

Head of TEF and Skills, Office for Students


Lord Norton of Louth

Chair, Higher Education Commission


Professor Michael Merrifield

Head, School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Nottingham

Jo Maher

Principal and Chief Executive, Loughborough College

Professor Timothy Quine

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), University of Exeter

Professor Paul Ashwin

Professor of Higher Education, Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University

Professor Tom Ward

Deputy Vice-Chancellor - Student Education, University of Leeds

Dr Mark Campbell

Senior Teaching Associate, University of Bristol