Durham University to appeal Silver rating

By Hugo Harris 

Professor Alan Houston, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, has announced that Durham plans to appeal the Silver Award it received in the 2017 Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

The TEF is a controversial rating system that measures a university’s teaching quality from data sources such as the National Student Survey. The government has previously suggested universities will have to participate in, and meet the minimum requirements of, the TEF in order to increase tuition fees.

In an email to students, Houston noted Durham University’s qualms about the rating system’s methodology: “Having reviewed TEF data and procedures, we plan to appeal. Durham is an exceptional institution, and we believe it should be rated Gold.”

He added: “Of course, no rating system is perfect, and no educational institution is without challenges. Durham’s Education Strategy has identified important areas for improvement, ranging from the construction of a state-of-the-art teaching and learning facility and a stronger commitment to access and inclusion to the introduction of lecture capture and a new digital learning environment.

“Each of these innovations are the fruit of extensive consultation with staff and students. Today’s TEF results remind us of the importance of community, and of the essential role each of us plays in the fulfilment of Durham’s mission.”

Durham is not the only supposedly ‘elite’ university which has failed to attain the TEF’s premier rating. Out of the 21 Russell Group universities that took part in the TEF, only 8 were bestowed the Gold Award.

Perhaps the biggest upset to have occurred for this first round of awards is the London School of Economics (LSE), currently second in the QS global league table for social sciences, only managing to attain the TEF’s lowest Bronze Award.

Dr Tim Bradshaw, director of the Russell Group, stated his organisation’s position on the news: “Our members provide an outstanding student experience where teaching is enhanced by access to world-class research and facilities.

“This is a trial year. We need to recognise that developing a robust TEF that is truly reflective of the UK’s excellent higher education sector will take time.”

On the other hand, Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute that administers the TEF, stated that some of the “surprising” results showed the TEF was working: “The TEF would have comprehensively failed if it had simply replicated existing hierarchies.

“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.”

Photograph: Durham University

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