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Leading universities rated 'bronze' under new ranking system
Several leading universities have failed to score highly in a new ranking of degree teaching standards.

Several leading universities have failed to score highly in a new ranking of degree teaching standards.

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has rated 295 institutions bronze, silver or gold according to their standard of undergraduate teaching.

Gold went to 59 and silver to 116.

The lowest score of bronze was awarded to 56 - including the London School of Economics (LSE), Southampton, Liverpool, Goldsmiths and the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas).

The new teaching rankings aim to help students make informed choices about degree courses, but many universities rated as bronze have criticised the system as unfair and unreliable.

Drop-out rates

The TEF, which was introduced by the previous government, is being administered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce).

Degree providers - a mixture of universities, colleges offering degree courses and alternative providers - could choose whether or not to take part.

However, those awarded a bronze or higher - all institutions that took part, besides 64 who were given a provisional rating - are now set to be able to raise tuition fees, which currently stand at about £9,000, in line with inflation in 2018-19.

Higher education providers are assessed on a range of measures, including facilities, student satisfaction, drop-out rates and whether students go on to employment or further study after graduating.

It is based on data and not actual inspections of lectures or other teaching.

Fourteen further education colleges that offer degrees received the top ranking of gold, alongside some elite universities.

Differences between institutions, such as entry qualifications and subjects studied, were taken into account by an independent panel - made up of 27 academics, students, employers and experts in widening participation - which made the final awards.

A gold award means a university is of the highest quality found in the UK, providing "consistently outstanding teaching, learning and outcomes for its students", while the silver award was given for consistently exceeding "rigorous national quality requirements for UK higher education" and bronze was awarded to those that met these national requirements.

The ranking of provisional is given to those institutions that do not yet have sufficient data to be fully assessed.

Hefce said the rankings measured the issues that students cared about:

  • high-quality, engaged teaching
  • a supportive, stimulating learning environment
  • having the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their potential
  • the opportunity to progress to a good job or further study

Madeleine Atkins, chief executive of Hefce, said students invested significant amounts of time and money in their higher education and "rightly expected a high-quality learning experience and outcomes".

Prof Chris Husbands, who chairs the TEF assessment panel, said he hoped the TEF "provided clear and easily understandable ratings to be used alongside other information".

He stressed that within individual awards, universities may have elements of others - for example a university awarded bronze could have elements of gold or silver.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said the fact that some of the results "seemed surprising" suggested the TEF was working.

"The TEF would have comprehensively failed if it had simply replicated existing hierarchies," he said.

"It was always designed to do something different to other league tables and rankings - namely, to show where there are pockets of excellence that have been ignored and to encourage improvements elsewhere."

But he added that students should remember the TEF did not "accurately reflects precisely what goes on in lecture halls".

"I hope university applicants will use the results in their decision-making - but they should do so with caution, not least because the ratings are for whole universities rather than individual courses," he said.

Sir Christopher Snowden, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton, which received a bronze award, said it was "hard to have confidence in a TEF which appears devoid of any meaningful assessment of teaching".

"I know I am not alone in having deep concerns about its subjective assessment, its lack of transparency, and with different benchmarks for each institution removing any sense of equity and equality of assessment," he said.

"Our own student satisfaction metrics, including satisfaction with teaching, are better than some of those universities who have been awarded silver and gold today."

Southampton intends to appeal against its rating.

Dr Deborah Johnston, pro-director of Soas, said she was concerned that the TEF did not "accurately reflect what we do".

"There is clearly also a London effect, with one in three London institutions achieving bronze, compared to just one in eight outside London.

"The metrics were not benchmarked for London, when we believe there was a significant difference for London institutions, for example in relation to retention rates due to costs of living."

In a statement, the University of Liverpool said it was disappointing to receive a bronze rating, but added that the TEF was "not an absolute measure of quality".

"By other widely recognised rankings, the University of Liverpool is consistently named in the top 200 universities globally," it said.

"Nonetheless, we're committed to improving against the measures used in the TEF."

Patrick Loughrey, warden of Goldsmiths said the TEF rating showed "we must improve in a number of areas to ensure our students have the best possible experience during their time here".

"We are already working hard to do this, and look forward to meeting these challenges together over the coming months and years" he said.

Interim director of the LSE, Prof Julia Black, said there were limits to the measures the TEF used, but added: "We recognise that we have work to do, but we are confident that the education initiatives that we have under way will lead to improvements for our students."


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