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Teaching quality matters to foreign students, UK schools told after TEF shocker

Gold, silver or bronze? Source: Shutterstock.

Industry figures in UK’s higher education sector are calling on universities to take heed of the newly-released Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) results and how it will change the face of international student recruitment to the country.

The results released Thursday sent shockwaves through the sector, with several top universities unexpectedly earning “bronze” ratings while smaller and younger schools were given the coveted “gold” prize. While debate rages on over the impact the ratings will have on these institutions’ reputations, universities have been urged to double down on efforts to maintain UK’s attractiveness as a study destination.

“UK universities must seriously consider the impact of the ratings on their international student recruitment,” Paul Raybould, Marketing Director at student recruitment company Hobsons said in a statement.

According to Raybould, findings from Hobsons’ own International Student Survey 2017 show the TEF scores will carry significant weight among international students.

More than one-fifth (22 percent) of prospective students surveyed say a gold TEF rating shows the best way to assess the quality of higher education in the UK. And contrary to popular belief, teaching quality trumped ranking to be the top priority among those considering a UK university to study in.

“Whilst TEF ratings are just one of the many metrics at the disposal of international students when they are choosing where to study, the higher education sector should assess how the results affect perceptions of the UK as a destination.”

TEF is a new controversial assessment of teaching, learning and student experience proposed by the Conservative government, where universities will be given a ranking of either gold, silver or bronze.

Thursday’s results were broadly positive with 32 percent of the 134 universities that took part achieving golds (43) versus 18 percent bronzes. However, among the elite Russell Group universities that participated, only eight out of 21 institutions were awarded the gold rating, while 10 got silver.

According to Universities UK’s programme manager William Hammonds the TEF is meant to show a different perspective on a university’s performance, with particular focus on teaching.

Nonetheless, experts are advising prospective students to treat the results with caution.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank said to The Guardian:

“While it tells us a lot of useful things, none of them accurately reflects precisely what goes on in lecture halls.”

While the TEF’s methodology continues to draw mixed responses, its impact on international students seems pretty clear and universities are taking the latest scores as a wake-up call to make sure the UK remains a high-quality academic experience.

Referring to how these students will be attracted to how the TEF presents its results, as well as how it gives the impression of having the government’s stamp of approval, Times Higher Education’s news editor wrote: “This is likely to be particularly influential on international students – a key factor for universities, given the lucrative tuition fees that overseas learners pay.”

Coventry University scored a gold in a result that saw many upsets. Pic: Shutterstock.

Despite the concerns about the TEF measures, John Latham, vice-chancellor of Coventry University which scored a gold, said the league does not “change the fact that a new order has been established in university rankings.”

“It’s a clear message that universities must work harder for a recognised environment of success and that students are looking for more than historic reputation.”

Raybould says data is one way universities can take to continue attracting international students.

“By harnessing the power of data and taking a more strategic approach to international student recruitment, we at Hobsons believe that universities can achieve success and maintain the UK’s global leadership in higher education.”

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