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No TEF to run in 2020 despite Gavin Williamson’s direction

Image: Martin McQuillan for HE

Regulator confirms there will be no exercise this year, despite minister's instruction

The Office for Students appears to have ignored a recommendation by the secretary of state for education after choosing not to publish any Teaching Excellence Framework results in 2020.

In its January to June publications programme, sent to registered universities on 6 January, the OfS outlines its activities for the first half of 2020. It states that while England’s higher education regulator intends to “develop a new framework for the TEF” this year, it “will not conduct a TEF Year 5 exercise in 2020”.

When the 2019 TEF results were published in June, it was expected that 2020 would be a fallow year for the framework, with all current ratings originally expected to be valid until 2021, at which time the subject-level TEF is due to launch.

However, in a letter to the regulator in September setting out his expectations to the OfS, education secretary Gavin Williamson said he wanted fresh results to be published this year.

“Alongside baseline quality requirements, the TEF is a vital tool for helping the OfS and the public to understand quality and value for money in the higher education sector,” Williams wrote. “This means I would like the OfS to be ambitious in its plans for the development of the TEF, both in scope and timing.”

He said this should include publication of the first subject level TEF in 2021. However, he added: “To ensure that we do not lose momentum, I would also like the OfS to consider running a further provider-level TEF assessment exercise with results to be published in 2020.”

The OfS said the development of a new framework for the TEF will be informed by the recommendations of Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review of the TEF, which has still not been published despite being expected in 2019. A spokesperson told Research Professional News, “The secretary of state’s guidance letter asked the OfS to consider running a further TEF exercise in 2020. Having carefully considered this, a decision was made to focus on developing the future framework.”

A spokeswoman for the DfE told Research professional News: “In September 2019, the secretary of state for education asked the OfS to consider conducting a TEF assessment of Universities and Colleges in 2020, and a further assessment in 2021 of the individual subjects taught by the higher education providers.  

“We are content that the OfS has considered the Department’s requests and has chosen to prioritise publishing a subject-level TEF in 2021."

Johnny Rich, a higher education specialist who is chief executive of the outreach organisation Push, told Research Professional News that rather than an act of defiance by the OfS, he believed both the regulator and the DfE had realised the publication of results this year was “not practical, realistic or worthwhile”.

“The exercise would have had to be carried out under the shadow of the publication of the Pearce review, but before the implementation of any recommendations,” he said. “That would undermine the exercise.”