Deciding where to study – Findings from IFF’s high profile evaluation of the TEF

This week, the annual mid-January scramble for students to finalise their UCAS applications has once more come and gone, with one key question causing stress in households across the country:  where should I study? The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) seeks to help students make this decision, assigning Gold, Silver and Bronze awards to HE providers across the UK that denotes the relative quality of the teaching that they provide, and the outcomes of their students. IFF are delighted to see that our evaluation of the 2016-17 provider-level TEF has been published by the Department for Education today, see here for the full report.

This research evaluated the second year of the provider-level TEF against its objectives, considering the views of two key stakeholder groups: applicants to Higher Education courses for the 2018/19 academic year (close to 3,000 were interviewed) and Higher Education providers (311 staff participated, covering 195 unique institutions).

The applicant side of the research evaluated applicant awareness of the TEF, how the TEF is used by applicants and its role in their decision-making processes. We found that around a third of all applicants to HE courses had some knowledge of the TEF at the time of their application while 15% of all applicants used the TEF in their decision making. A further 11% of all applicants reported that they changed their application choices as a result of seeing the TEF awards, for example submitting their choices in a different order of preference. These are promising signs for the TEF and, should awareness of the TEF increase as anticipated, it suggests that the framework could become a widely used tool to inform future applicants’ choices around where to study.

The provider side of the evaluation explored how providers felt the TEF was performing and what impacts had occurred as a result. While there was some debate regarding its design and the criteria that inform the TEF, a majority of providers felt that TEF will be able to achieve most of its objectives: for example, 68% thought the TEF would raise esteem for teaching while a further 57% felt that it would better inform student choice. More pertinently, the study showed that the TEF has already contributed to changing practices within institutions, especially among institutions that received a Bronze TEF award. As a result of the TEF award that they received, a number of providers had already started to develop and invest in new initiatives aimed at boosting the student experience and student outcomes.

On the same day that the report was published, the DfE announced the TEF independent review and IFF will be keenly following its progress in the wake of today’s report.

For more information speak to blog authors Andrew Skone-James and Sam Whittaker.