The University of York has been ranked Silver under the Government’s new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) released today (22 June), missing out on the top ranking of Gold, which was awarded to 59 of some 295 institutions rated. Silver went to 116 institutions, while Bronze was a given to 56 institutions including fellow city university York St John, although it is worth noting that only 134 of the institutions ranked reflected universities or specialist higher education institutions.
Of the Russell Group, a collection of prestigious research intensive universities of which York is a part of, only eight of the 21 institutions were awarded Gold, while 10 were awarded Silver, and three gained Bronze, including the internationally distinguished London School of Economics, in what appears to be the biggest unsettling of the framework.
TEF was first announced in 2015 by universities minister Jo Johnson as an attempt to stop teaching becoming the “poor cousin” to research, and to ensure students achieved good value for money given the rise in tuition fees, with higher rankings allowing universities to increase tuition fees. However, this is somewhat confusing, given an institution only needs a Bronze ranking to raise fees, which all institutions were at least awarded, bar a list of provisional rankings given to institutions which do not currently have sufficient data for full assessment.
TEF is based on six different metrics: students’ views on teaching quality; assessment and feedback; academic support; drop-out rates; employment or further study; and highly skilled-employment or further study. Both assessment and feedback and graduate employability appear to be York’s biggest failings, although arguably this is not unexpected, with 2016 employability figures rating York towards the bottom of the Russell Group after six and nine months, leading to the introduction of the York Futures careers development programme and the introduction of placement year opportunities university wide. The English department has also come under fire for poor and “extremely inconsistent” feedback.
A University spokesperson told York Vision: “The Silver Award acknowledges that our students achieve excellent outcomes and are significantly challenged while studying at York. The review panel acknowledged high levels of student satisfaction with teaching and academic support, and a culture that supports excellent teaching with recognition and awards schemes. The panel also noted a ‘high-quality physical and digital learning environment’ and ‘excellent levels of intellectual stimulation.’
“Our lecturers and support staff work incredibly hard delivering high quality teaching programmes, ensuring our students acquire the skills that are highly valued by employers. The launch of the York Pedagogy demonstrates our vision and commitment by providing an evidence-based approach to our teaching and clear expectations for our students.
“We are always striving to improve and deliver consistently outstanding teaching programmes and we believe the York Pedagogy and our continued investment in teaching facilities will help achieve that.”
When asked whether she thought York’s missing out on Gold was unfair, outgoing YUSU Academic Officer Tamaki Laycock said to Nouse that: “We were projected Silver, but hopeful for gold because of the provider submission that was submitted jointly through the University and YUSU. I think these metrics are uncharted territory, so its hard to say whether it is ‘unfair’, but it’s definitely putting universities as a whole in a very different perspective than what we’re used to!”
TEF has been the source of much controversy, with the National Union of Students (NUS) voting to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) due to the link between TEF and tuition fees, which York itself held a referendum on during second term, which returned a no boycott verdict. Some top universities also initially threatened to boycott TEF out of fear the damage done by a less than favourable (read: not Gold) ranking could outweigh any potential gains, with four Russell group universities stating they were debating a boycott in a Guardian survey conducted in November 2016.
Dr Tim Bradshaw, acting director of the Russell Group, today said that: “Our members provide an outstanding student experience where teaching is enhanced by access to world-class research and facilities. This is a trial year. We need to recognise that developing a robust TEF that is truly reflective of the UK’s excellent higher education sector will take time.
“TEF does not measure absolute quality and we have raised concerns that the current approach to flags and benchmarking could have a significant unintended impact. Applicants need clear guidance about what TEF results mean and how they should be interpreted to aid decision-making.”