With the results of the first Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) now released, universities across the country are currently taking stock of their position. For the 45 that received a gold award, there will obviously be a sense of pride and quite possibly relief that the assessors agreed with their submissions. For the 67 that received silver, again there will be a sense of achievement, though in some cases this may be mixed with a degree of regret at not hitting top marks. And for the 25 that scored bronze, which included a number of world-renowned institutions, there will of course be a sense of disappointment, perhaps even mixed with some sense of grievance over their rating.
One thing that the whole exercise seems to have stoked is an increased sense of competition, which of course was at least partly the point of it in the first place. As Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, points out, the results have shaken the existing HE order somewhat:
“If the TEF had just replicated existing hierarchies, then the whole thing would have been completely and utterly pointless. The fact that you have Edge Hill and Portsmouth, and some further education colleges up there in gold is quite exciting.”
In practical terms, what this means is that the next few months is bound to see universities taking steps to “stay in the game”. Those awarded gold are going to want to consolidate their position and not slip down the rostrum next year. The weaker of the silver graded universities are also going to want to consolidate their position, to avoid slipping back, whilst the stronger of the silver pack are going to be hungry for gold. And of course those in bronze are going to be striving to improve their position in time for the next assessment.
One area where all universities can either consolidate or improve, is in the area of student outcomes, which makes up a third of the final mark, being measured according to graduate employment or further study; and highly skilled employment or further study. The inclusion of destinations criteria in TEF is significant, since it shows the desire of the Government to move from what has basically been a supply-led HE system, where universities supplied the skills that they thought were needed, to what is basically a demand-led system, where universities are being called upon to take far more account of what industry and employers need. In a sense, this change has been driven by the need to urgently address the nation’s clear skills gap and chronically low productivity.
There has, however, been much debate about how reasonable these criteria actually are, since they basically measure employment rather than employability. What’s the difference? As we wrote here in more detail, employability can be defined as “the knowledge, skills and social capital that a student possesses when they graduate”, whereas employment is simply finding work. Those two things are decidedly not the same thing, but as we also argued, the gap between the two can be closed by better understanding the needs of employers.
In other words, if you know what employers are looking for, then you are going to be better placed to:
a) Offer a course portfolio that is more reflective of the needs of industry and
b) Help direct your students to graduate jobs that are in demand
This is especially important in terms of regional employment. According to research by HECSU, 63% of all graduates stay in the university region after graduating to look for work. Therefore, what this means is that the more aware the university is of the needs of employers in their region, the better able they are to align their degrees with those regional needs, and point their students in the direction of regional employers.
TEF has thrown down the gauntlet to universities to evidence that they are helping their students achieve better outcomes. Whether a university is looking to consolidate their TEF ranking next year, or to improve on this year’s score, they will need to give careful thought as to how this can be done. Using data to understand the needs of employers ought to play a key part in this. Through identifying what employers need, a university is better positioned to direct its students to actual jobs, and therefore better placed to satisfy the criteria set out in TEF.
To find out more about how our Labour Market Insight can help you achieve better employment destinations for your students, contact Lawrence Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org