Student Experience

Teaching Excellence Framework: why we got the result we did, what the Faculty strategy is, and how you can contribute

What is TEF?

TEF (the Teaching Excellence Framework) is run by the OfS and evaluates the teaching, learning and student outcomes in universities. It’s mandatory for English universities, and voluntary for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. TEF is graded on a scale Gold (defined by the OfS as ‘typically outstanding features’), Silver (‘typically very high quality with some outstanding features’), Bronze (‘typically high quality with some very high quality features’), and Requires Improvement. Separate grades are awarded at institutional level for Student Experience and for Student Outcomes, along with an overall grade. Grades are awarded holistically by the TEF panel and are based on metrics and benchmarks derived from NSS (for Student Experience) and completion, continuation, degree award, graduate outcomes metrics (for Student Outcomes), supported by a Provider Submission (written by the University) and a Student Submission (written by students/UMSU). You can read the full methodology here (link), explore the data here (link), and read our submission, our results and OfS feedback here (link).

What result did we get in 2023 – and why?

We got Silver overall, with Silver for Student Experience and Gold for Student Outcomes. To put this in context, of the English Russell Group universities there were 7 Gold and 13 Silver overall; across the entire sector, 22% of institutions were awarded Gold, 55% Silver, 21% Bronze and 1% Requires Improvement.

It’s fair to say that we got Silver despite rather than because of our metrics, and because our Provider Statement clearly articulated that we know our students, that we know where our problems lie, and that (for many of these problems) we have a credible plan to address them. The Student Submission also played a key role here by providing additional, independent and well-researched (through UMSU’s ‘Build Your Own Manchester’ survey) evidence of what we do well and not so well. Indeed, that a lot of what we do across TLSE is co-created with students is one of our strengths.

In terms of the numbers, we underperform on several NSS-derived metrics, particularly on Assessment & Feedback and Student Voice. This should come as no surprise to anybody – and is one reason why there is a lot of work and emphasis in these areas at all levels: from individual course units through Disciplines/Departments, School and Faculty, and to University policy. On ‘student voice’ the Student Submission noted that we could be more agile in responding to student feedback and implementing change. We also under-perform on academic support. The high quality of how we say we support students, through academic advising (including the Senior Advisor network and advisor training through NAP), DASS, peer-assisted study, well-being teams, etc is acknowledged by OfS, but the metrics are very far below the benchmarks.

There are many aspects of what we do that is outstanding: our student outcomes metrics are generally very good (albeit with some variation in some disciplines) and with strategies and initiatives (such as our Careers Service, Global Graduates, the Masood Enterpreneurship Centre) whose effectiveness are easy to evidence. On the whole, our metrics and methods to support continuation and completion are excellent (although see APP below). Another aspect of TEF is ‘Educational Gain’. The OfS acknowledge that each institution is different in aims and scope and they do not define Educational Gain. Instead, institutions were allowed to articulate what it meant for them. We aligned it to our institutional attributes for students to be ‘curious, courageous and connected’ and linked to employability. It’s easy to describe the (many!) outstanding activities we have in this space – Stellify, UCIL, involving employers in shaping the student experience. However, and (as noted by the OfS) in common with other institutions, we have difficulty in evaluating educational gain.

What are we doing for the next TEF – and how can you help?

We cannot rely on a repeat of 2023 where our Provider and Student Submissions set out that we knew and were addressing our weaknesses. The next TEF is planned for 2027 (before the next REF!) and we will need to have made tangible and evidencable improvements by then. There is no plan to chase metrics: instead, we fix the root causes, improve the student experience, and the metrics should then fix themselves. As we’re doing this, we will need to build in methods to detect and promote good practice and to evidence efficacy of interventions. One way to think of this is that ‘TEF asks us to ask difficult questions about our teaching, learning & student experience that (even without TEF) we should strive to solve’.

Within the FSE Teaching College structure, we have a ‘TEF Segment’ to lead on lessons learned from the last TEF, prepare for the next one, and to lead on ‘teaching excellence’. We are working with colleagues across the University on how we evaluate educational gain. Within FSE, we will be identifying initiatives and activities in course units, programmes, disciplines and sharing this good practice across FSE. A difficulty in the last TEF was evidencing that some initiatives were achieving their aims; taking this as a lesson learned, we want to ensure we have user-friendly mechanisms to evaluate the impact of what we do. We’ll be sharing more information on this over the coming months.  This will also help us with another challenge encountered in the 2023 TEF: demonstrating clearly that University initiatives are having an effect at programme and discipline level.

We are also currently working on the University’s APP (‘Access and Participation Plan’) submission. This is an OfS requirement for universities in England. APP looks at gaps in performance of students with different characteristics (ethnicity, ‘widening participation’ status, sex, disability, and many others) in recruitment, continuation, completion, degree attainment, graduate outcomes. The APP sets out how, over the next 5 years, we will address these gaps and evidence that we are making progress. There are some significant gaps across FSE disciplines, and we’ll be talking and working with the Discipline Heads of Education on this – expect to hear a lot more on APP soon!

As for what you can do to help: TLSE is a core part of what we as a university do. If you’re involved in delivering a degree programme or involved in the student experience (as an academic or PS colleague) it is highly likely that your work will help us achieve our aim of TEF Gold. Even if your only involvement in teaching is delivering part of a course unit or supervising a handful of students, you are still playing a vital role in this: small interactions are remembered by students and can have considerable impact!

Charles Walkden and Fiona Lynch