Student Advice

TEF Awards

Ben Maples  · Apr 19th 2022

Going to university, you may wonder whether or not the TEF Awards are actually relevant to you and your studies.


Do they actually affect you and your time at university and are they important to the overall decision of going to university at all?

When going to university, you will see a number of people will talk to you about TEF Awards, or TEF Ranking or TEF Score, but what are they and specifically, how do they help you, a student, when applying to university and is the university TEF score that important?

You will see these rather aesthetically appealing little TEF Award images on some universities in our university course search, but what do they mean and how relevant are they?

University TEF Awards

What is TEF?

TEF stands for the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework, it is a governmental assessment of the quality of undergraduate teaching and education within universities and other higher education providers in England.

Come 2020, TEF Awards may be used to determine whether or not education providers like universities are able to raise their tuition fees. Universities with poor course quality will, therefore, be unable to raise tuition fees. TEF UK ratings will differ depending on course quality as well as facilities.

What will put students' minds at ease, is that education providers are able to opt-in for the TEF Awards, however, it will not allow them to raise their tuition fees just because they have a good grade. Some universities will display their score via a TEF table, which will have an individual breakdown of their TEF university ranking.

What are TEF Ratings?

TEF University Teaching Awards have three separate grades (basically a Framework), these grades are described by the Department of Education as:

  • Gold: Provision is consistently outstanding and of the highest quality found in the UK Higher Education sector.
  • Silver: Provision is of high quality, and significantly and consistently exceeds the baseline quality threshold expected of UK Higher Education.
  • Bronze: Provision is of satisfactory quality.

If an institution does not enter the TEF Awards or doesn’t meet the standards expected of them, it will simply remain ungraded and will receive no TEF Ratings at all. However, if there isn’t enough data available for a full assessment to be carried out then it just receives an provisional unrated award rather than a provisional unrated award.

Why is TEF important to me?

Well, it depends on your viewpoint. It depends what aspect of university life interests you the most, those that are interested in the social aspect of university and are looking for the best universities for social life, may not find TEF as that important when selecting their university.

What is the criteria for a TEF Awarding?

The TEF Awards are explored in six different metrics (or TEF criteria), which are:

  • Teaching on the course
  • Non-continuation
  • Assessment and feedback
  • Academic support
  • Highly skilled-employment/further study
  • Employment

These are marked by flags:

  • Double-positive flag
  • A positive flag
  • No flag
  • Negative flag
  • Double-negative flag

These can add up to the institution’s overall ranking and their overall gold, silver or bronze award.

Uni TEF Awards

Does every university have a TEF Award?

No. Since participation is voluntary, it's not always possible to rank every single university with the TEF Award, especially since some education providers may not have the right data available for an assessment.

Do the universities using TEF agree with its rulings?

TEF has been shrouded in controversy for a while now, especially since it’s controversially low ratings for certain universities in 2017, which caused the then acting director of the Russell Group of Universities (which will have a TEF university or two) to say: “TEF does not measure absolute quality and we have raised concerns that the current approach to flags and benchmarking could have a significant unintended impact”, which were concerns they raised when they were vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton.

The TEF results have sparked a number of outspread criticism from students as well, who believe that the raise in tuition fees and the awards handed out by TEF have a direct correlation, with the National Union of Students even going so far as to vote in favour of boycotting the National Student Survey, as the results of the NSS feed directly into TEF’s results.

That’s not to say that it’s all doom and gloom for the TEF Awards, Simone Buitendijk, Vice Provost at Imperial College London has said that the TEFs are “Godsend' for higher education. For people like me, a vice-provost, TEF exercises are actually really useful because what happens is, for the first time, the president and the provost start paying close attention to the quality of teaching...It’s not a bad thing if there is very close attention being paid to teaching at research-intensive universities."

What is the HEFCE TEF?

This is just a phrase for the correlation between the TEF Awards and the Higher Education Funding Council, which can help students with various grants, bursaries and scholarships for students at university.

The TEF Awards are a great way for students to monitor the progress of universities and also a great way for them to learn more and more about what a university is doing right and what they are doing wrong.

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