A tale of two frameworks

How good are British Universities at teaching? This question has sparked the mother of all rows in UK academia.

The government has insisted that only unis with great teachers should be able to put up their fees, and then devised a byzantine student rating system called the Teaching Excellence Framework, or TEF, that no two experts agree on.

To top it all, the TEF has been boycotted by many of the students whose ratings its scores are supposed to be based on. Confused? We all are.

How different from the habits of our own dear British Council. When they want to find out how good the 40 university language centres which have chosen to be accredited are, they go and inspect them. They check academic qualifications, course design, learner assessment and support and academic management. Then they sit in every classroom and watch the teaching. Simple.

And their way of scoring is simple too: against each individual criterion for teaching and learning they award one of three scores: not met, met, or strongly met. To find out how good they are you simply check the reports to see the percentage of all criteria that are met, and the percentage of those that are awarded by strength. Then you add the scores together and divide by two. The results are reported in the Teaching and Learning columns of the charts. And in case you’re wondering, based on British Council inspections, the teaching in British university language centres is consistently strong. Sixty five per cent of centres score 70 per cent or more which put them in the top third in the country.

Meanwhile, back at the TEF, the government has been handing out gold, silver and bronze medals for the first set of national results. It has based this on adding the student satisfaction score to the drop out rate and the employment rate of graduates. Then they have taken away points from the famous ancient universities on the grounds that they are famous and ancient.

Some universities have refused to take part, including ironically Aberystwyth, which was recently awarded Teaching University of the Year by The Times. Students in other universities, notably Oxford and Cambridge, have run such a successful boycott that there isn’t enough survey data for the government to include them in TEF results. Nothing daunted, the government has been handing out gold medals to the top third, silver to the next third and so on. We’ve added those in the chart too – under the TEF column (see table on the next page)

Honestly, though, if they are worried about university teaching why doesn’t the government just take a leaf out of the British Council book and inspect them?