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University of Suffolk launches appeal against bronze award in Teaching Excellence Framework rankings

PUBLISHED: 12:28 03 August 2017 | UPDATED: 12:30 03 August 2017

The Waterfront Campus at the University of Suffolk. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The Waterfront Campus at the University of Suffolk. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The University of Suffolk has appealed against the lowest-ranked award it received in the first major Olympic-styled assessment of higher education teaching standards. Vice-chancellor Richard Lister explains why in an exclusive interview.

The university was awarded a bronze in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) in June. The ranking system was introduced by the government to recognise excellent learning and teaching.

Vice-chancellor Richard Lister said he was not opposed to the TEF as a concept but said it must be “fair and accurate”, reflecting long-held national concerns.

The TEF assesses teaching quality, learning environment, and student outcomes. Drop-out rates and student satisfaction surveys are some of the measures.

Out of the 295 institutions, 26% gained gold, 50% silver, and 24% bronze, including the world-renowned London School of Economics. Over half of Russell Group institutions failed to achieve gold, unlike Cambridge, Oxford, Coventry and Loughborough.

Mr Lister told this newspaper: “I think it is not unreasonable for institutions to have the teaching assessed. Students pay a lot to go to university, and they need the maximum amount of information. In principle, I am not opposed to it.

“Remembering the TEF requires no visits to an institution, it simply looks at data, and in my view, doesn’t take into account enough the subject mix, the type of students, what you’re trying to do with those students – if you are like us and are completely committed to, and proud of, the fact that we find students who never thought they could go to university and we turn them out as really good university students at the end, that is a tough thing to do, and it gets no recognition in the TEF.

“If you want to do well in the TEF, it is dead easy: all you have to do is choose students who have got three Bs at A-level, come from a supportive family who have been through higher education – that’s not what it is about for me.

“I think the irony of having just been through the independence and the process which allowed us to award our own degrees, which had hugely experienced quality assessors in this place for a whole year, wrote a glowing report about what we were doing. And yet, three months later, you look at the statistics, and suddenly we are a bronze. It doesn’t make sense.

“I am not adverse to it. I think it needs to be refined. If the government is in listening mode and is wiling to take those refinements into account, I think it is entirely students should have the best information about teaching, research, accommodation, facilities. But it has got to be fair and accurate.”

The university is awaiting the result of the appeal. Other universities have also appealed.

Gold represents an ‘outstanding’ rating. Bronze means national requirements are met.

What does the TEF assess?

• Teaching quality: teaching that stimulates and challenges students, and maximises their engagement with their studies.

• Learning environment: the effectiveness of resources and activities – such as libraries, laboratories and work experience – which support learning and improve retention, progression and attainment.

• Student outcomes: the extent to which all students, in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds, achieve their educational and professional goals.

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