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Is it all ‘Fun with Flags’ for Royal Holloway’s Silver TEF Award?

Editor, Abbie Cheeseman, discusses what Royal Holloway’s Silver TEF Award really means.

The results of the 2017 Teaching Excellence Framework were released today and Royal Holloway achieved a silver award.

What is the Teaching Excellence Framework?

The framework, which is overseen by the Department for Education, was introduced last year to recognise and reward excellent teaching. It also serves as a tool to help students make informed choices on where to study.

According to HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England), a silver award is given ‘for delivering high quality teaching, learning and outcomes for its students. It consistently exceeds rigorous national quality requirements for UK higher education’

The award has come on the back of a successful year for the college in terms of national rankings. In 2017, Royal Holloway rose 5 places to 40th in the UK in the Guardian’s University League Tables 2018.

“This rating is testament to the quality of the experience we provide at Royal Holloway, from excellent teaching delivered by academic experts, first-class facilities and award-winning development opportunities such as micro-placements and volunteering initiatives. Our focus on support and development has helped us achieve a strong TEF rating, and seen Royal Holloway rise across the national league tables this year,” said Professor Paul Layzell, Principal of Royal Holloway.

“Our own students rate us highly on their levels of satisfaction. We are distinctive in providing a close-knit, supportive community that offers world-leading courses that lead in national and international league tables. We are dedicated to excellence across the academic and student experience, and this rating lends support to the ambitious changes we have instigated to further improve our community,”

What did our TEF report highlight?

  • Course design that provides high levels of stretch to enable students to be significantly challenged and to progress and develop transferable and professional skills, through micro-placement schemes for example
  • Students who are engaged with developments from the forefront of research, scholarship and practice, supported by evidence of examples of publications and other recognition of undergraduate student research
  •  Investment in e-learning facilities which include the use of learning analytics to track and promote academic success, and information resources which contribute to an effective mix of physical and digital infrastructure, creating a high quality learning environment
  • Pre-arrival support for transition
  • An institutional culture that recognises, rewards and develops good teaching and learning practice, including a career route for teaching and scholarship staff, and emphasis for all academic staff on scholarship and innovation in teaching and learning.

So it’s all positive news?

Not quite…

TEF is measured using six core metrics: three from the National Student Survey, one about university drop-out rates and two about what graduates did after leaving. For each of these metrics, the university receives a positive or negative flag or a double positive or negative flag, if they did particularly well or not. The data was compared to a benchmark based on a profile of the university’s student population.

For five of the metrics, Royal Holloway did not receive a flag. Whilst this means that the college is not performing poorly against it’s benchmark, it’s also not doing considerably well against it.

Furthermore, the most worrying issue to be drawn from the TEF data is the double negative flag that the college received for ‘highly skilled employment or further study’.

In the provider submission that the college submitted to support their TEF application, there is an attempt to explain this. Whilst there is obviously work to be done to ensure that metric is closer to the benchmark, there is suggestion that  ‘Royal Holloway students decide to enter the career job market comparatively late’.

In an independent 2016 survey, graduates that in 2012 and 2013 who had not reported highly skilled employment or further study were contacted. ‘Results showed that 61% of those graduates who were not in graduate employment after six months had progressed to highly skilled graduate employment two years post-graduation’.

However, there is little hiding from the fact that the college is performing ‘notably below benchmark’ in students progressing onto highly skilled employment or further study, according to the data collected over the last three years.

What does this mean for our tuition fees?

There has been significant dispute with the Higher Education Bill around the link between TEF and tiered tuition fees. As it stands at the moment, any institution that opts into TEF and subsequently achieves a bronze, silver or gold award can raise their tuition fees in line with inflation. This is currently being considered a ‘pilot stage’ which is why tiered fees are not in place.

According to NUS:

‘Stage three is planned to roll out next academic year. Awards will be announced in spring 2018 and the crucial aspect is that the government want to allow only those with Silver or Gold to raise fees in line with 100 per cent inflation. Bronze unis would be limited to 50 per cent of inflation. These rises would be for students starting in autumn 2019. From 2019 onwards the government want there to be different levels of fees at universities.’

Whilst there are a wealth of social media posts from Royal Holloway students suggesting that we shouldn’t be able to increase tuition fees as we haven’t received a gold award, this is simply is not true. The Department for Education will be confirming the 2018-19 fee caps in due course.

How did we fare against the rest of London?

In comparison to some of our London counterparts, we have fared well in the TEF ratings.

Imperial College London was the only non-specialist institution to receive a Gold award. On the opposite end of the spectrum, LSE who is a Russell Group Institution, received a bronze award. As did, St. George’s, SOAS, London Met, Goldsmiths and University of East London. Of all of the institutions that opted into TEF, 45.8% of the bronze awards were given in London alone.

Royal Holloway’s Silver TEF Award is valid for 3 years.

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