UK universities to be ranked ‘gold,’ ‘silver’ or ‘bronze’

From May 2017 universities in England will be ranked as ‘gold’, ‘silver’ or ‘bronze’ as part of the government’s controversial Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

In ‘Details of how universities will be rated under the second year of the Teaching Excellence Framework’, published this week, it was announced that the ratings will be made available to students applying for courses in autumn 2017. It is hoped that this move will incentive universities to raise standards whilst providing greater transparency to potential students.

The Department for Education, which administers TEF, is planning to allow universities with high ratings to increase tuition fees in line with inflation, possibly from as early as 2018. As next year falls within TEF’s trial period, all universities participating in the scheme  will be able to raise their fees. Oxford is one such university planning to  charge the new maximum fee, £9,250, from October 2017.

The lobby-group Universities UK and the University Alliance organisation have highlighted the need for scrutiny of the scheme during its trial period in order to ensure that it meets the diverse needs of Higher Education institutions across the UK. They have also expressed concern that such drastic reforms are taking place as UK universities adapt to the uncertainties of Brexit.

A panel of assessors will group higher education providers into the three bands based on their performance in three ‘metrics’. These metrics are student satisfaction, retention (the number of students who complete their courses at the institution within the prescribed timeframe) and graduate employment. All of these metrics have come under a degree of criticism from universities and student groups as likely to be effected by factors other than teaching quality. It has also been suggested that measuring retention rates may lead to universities making their courses easier whilst graduate employment rates may discourage universities from offering niche or highly academic degrees.

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Original proposals had described the three bands as ‘outstanding’, ‘excellent’ and ‘meets expectations.’ These were changed to ‘gold’, ‘silver’ and ‘bronze’ after consultation as it was believed that ‘outstanding’ and ‘excellent’ were potentially misleading due to similarities in meaning. Concerns were also raised that describing  some universities as ‘meeting expectations’ could damage the reputation of UK Higher Education internationally.

In was also revealed that universities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would now be able to opt-in to TEF, although at this stage it would not affect their funding.