Before we can talk about the Teaching Excellence Framework, or TEF, we have to mention the Research Excellence Framework, or REF. You’ve probably never heard of the REF, which is ironic, as unless you picked a university solely based of the Guardian League Table, then you almost certainly used the REF to rank them.
The REF is the assessment exercise that is carried out every 6 years to rank universities on the quality and quantity of research produced; how much there is and how ‘impactful’ it is. So a high REF score means an abundance of heavily cited, grant winning papers and projects. But does quality research translate into quality teaching? Not necessarily.
If you look at politics departments across the country, there is no statistical correlation between a high REF score and a high National Student Survey (NSS) Score. The feeble, non-statistical correlation is actually negative, suggesting a good REF score might actually hamper teaching.
For many disillusioned students, this probably makes sense. The most accomplished researchers can be some of the poorest teachers, too busy to give lecturing and seminar leading the commitment it deserves.
From the tutor who timed your 10-minute Office Hours’ appointment to the second so they could get back to writing journal articles, to the 3 hours a week contact time for which you pay roughly £100 an hour. These easily relatable examples of ‘Research-Led-Teaching’ might explain why some are unhappy with staff engagement in our learning and the environment within which it takes places.
But the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), is coming, and it could be a ground breaking development for students.
Just like the REF, the TEF is an audit which promises to assess the quality of teaching, and is fully cognizant of the fact students, now paying top tier fees, often don’t come away feeling like they have had a 9k teaching experience.
The Times Higher Education simulated what TEF rankings might look like based on the quality of teaching at UK institutions. It’s an amazing result, upending the league tables, with smaller, non-Russell universities scoring highly. Loughborough comes out on top, followed by Aston and De Monfort. UCL, my institution, tumbles down the table, and Oxford and Cambridge both fare poorly. If the TEF survives its pilot (and many people would like to see it wither and die) its impacts on student experience could be earth shattering, and the Russell Groups is scared.
Yet strangely enough, its ramifications are only being discussed in terms of staff and institutions. What will this mean for staff workload? Will I have to teach more? Will I get more time to do teaching? These are valid questions that will impact staff lives, but we want to know how it will impact you.
Throughout the coming months we will be talking about the TEF a lot, and what it means for students. What measurements will it be using for assessment? Will students get to define ‘outstanding’ teaching? Do the TEF and Slow Movement have common ground? Would a slow-inspired set of metrics for measuring teaching lead to a better experience for educators and educatees?
Stay tuned, and stay slow.