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Universities to be rated by subject in England

Universities in England will be rated by subject under new plans announced by the UK government. The new scheme, if introduced, would expand the scope of the existing Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).13 Mar 2018

Student feedback, drop-out rates and graduate outcomes are all factors which will determine how individual subjects provided by universities are graded under the new framework, the Department for Education said.

"This new framework recognises that outcomes and teaching quality differ not just by university but also by course, and will allow students to look behind provider-level ratings and access information about teaching quality for a specific subject," it said.

The existing TEF was introduced as a means of measuring learning and teaching standards across the higher education sector, complementing the existing Research Excellence Framework. Providers are assessed on a range of different aspects of teaching including student satisfaction, retention and the future job prospects of graduates. The assessment is based on data and not actual inspections of teaching.

The Department for Education said that a number of universities will participate in the piloting of the new subject-level TEF, with the new scheme set to take full effect from the academic year 2019/20.

Universities minister for England, Sam Gyimah, said: "Prospective students deserve to know which courses deliver great teaching and great outcomes – and which ones are lagging behind.

In the age of the student, universities will no longer be able to hide if their teaching quality is not up to the world-class standard that we expect."

"The new subject-level TEF will give students more information than ever before, allowing them to drill down and compare universities by subject. This will level the international playing field to help applicants make better choices, and ensure that more students get the value for money they deserve from higher education," he said.

Plans for the specific modelling of the new subject-level TEF are set out in a consultation paper published by the government. The consultation is open until 21 May.

Universities law expert Gayle Ditchburn of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "This would be another challenge for higher education institutions to meet at a time of unprecedented change for the sector. The subject-level assessment of teaching and learning standards will undoubtedly expose areas of underperformance which will need to be tackled, potentially even within those institutions which have achieved a 'gold' rating overall in the TEF."

"For research led or research intensive institutions, this will continue and potentially fuel the debate in relation to the balance of teaching against research. However, the results may provide those universities with the clear rationale and impetus to take up that challenge and respond to the calls to re-prioritise teaching," she said.