The University said their gold status was a reflection of a "world-class education"Simon Lock

The University of Cambridge has achieved a gold award in the government’s controversial Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a new means of measuring the quality of teaching at higher education institutions across the UK.

The results, published yesterday by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, were introduced by the government under the Higher Education bill passed in April. The government’s initial proposals, aimed at elucidating teaching quality at universities and helping prospective students make better-informed decisions, included plans to allow participating institutions to increase fees in line with inflation. However, any fee increases will now be delayed until after an independent review of the framework has taken place, following an amendment to the bill by the House of Lords.

Across the education sector, results for some prestigious universities were disappointing. Of the 21 Russell Group universities who participated in the TEF, only eight were awarded the gold ranking, including Oxford, Nottingham, Newcastle, Leeds, Imperial College London, Birmingham and Exeter. Ten Russell Group institutions were awarded silver, while the London School of Economics - which is currently rated second in the QS global rankings for social sciences - and School of Oriental and African Studies both scraped the lowest bronze rating. The University of Southampton, which was also given a bronze award, has announced that it will be appealing against the decision. 

134 universities and specialist higher education providers across the UK chose to participate in the TEF on a voluntary basis, of which Cambridge is one of only 43 to achieve the gold award. 50 per cent of participants were given silver, and 18 per cent bronze.

The announcement comes just weeks after the release of the results of the 2016 Big Cambridge survey, conducted by CUSU. The report revealed widespread dissatisfaction among students with the quality of teaching they received, with less than half of undergraduates agreeing that they consistently received top-quality teaching across their degree.

The TEF proposals have attracted criticism from several quarters, including higher education experts. Detractors claim that the metrics examined by assessors, including dropout rates, student satisfaction survey results and graduate employment rates, do not provide an accurate picture of teaching quality.

The NUS, which has been vocally opposed to the TEF for some time, once again expressed their displeasure with  the measure, branding it “another meaningless university ranking system which no one asked for”. Sorana Vieru, NUS vice president for higher education, accusing it of “painting an inaccurate picture of universities”. She added:  “When the independent review of the Tef is undertaken we hope to see renewed opposition from across the sector, with the voices of students placed front and centre.”

Madeleine Atkins, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, justified the new ranking system by emphasising its benefits for students, who “currently invest significant amounts of time, and indeed money and incurring debt, in their higher education.”

“They are quite right to expect a high-quality academic experience. To hold any Tef award universities and colleges must already have cleared a high bar. The Tef measures excellence over and above this bar.”


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Universities minister Jo Johnson said: “The teaching excellence framework is refocusing the sector’s attention on teaching, putting in place incentives that will raise standards across the sector and giving teaching the same status as research.”

Responding to the announcement, a University spokesperson told Varsity: “Cambridge provides a world-class education and our Gold rating provides further confirmation of this.

"This year’s framework is a pilot and we look forward to the review in 2019 which we hope will lead to improvements in the quality of information that TEF provides, and greater clarity about how this information will be used.”