StudyAdvantage Magazine

A New Rating System for UK Universities

Published: October 31, 2016




As part of the Department for Education’s Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef), the UK government is introducing a new university rating system that will come into force in mid-2017. It will rank UK universities as gold, silver or bronze based on the teaching quality of their institutions. Contrary to the conventional notion of coming in third place, being awarded a bronze rating will actually mean that in some areas, the university falls “significantly below” standards, making vice-chancellors worried about the potential repercussions of receiving such a rating.

The universities minister Jo Johnson has argued that placing focus on teaching quality will give students a clearer idea of where there is not only world-leading research, but a rich learning experience to be gained as well. However, some have criticised the rating for not being based on statistics that directly reflect teaching quality, such as dropout rates and graduate employment.

The new rating is supposed to help not only students, but the government itself make subsequent decisions, such as determining which universities get to raise their tuition fees by the rate of inflation starting from 2018. Some fear it will be used to place restrictions on “lower quality” institutions, especially after Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced plans to curb the number of overseas students coming to the UK.

Part of Rudd’s reasoning behind the restrictions is that foreign workers should only be filling gaps in the UK labour market rather than taking jobs that British people could do. Many have responded to this by arguing that education is one of the UK’s most successful export industries, and that international students contribute immensely to the UK economy, by creating thousands of jobs amongst other things. International students are counted in migration statistics and represent 167,000 of the 600,000 migrants coming to the UK each year. If one aim of this reform is to show lower migration numbers, some have argued it’s a misleading way to go about it, as polls show most British people don’t consider students migrants.

Some universities, such as the London School of Economics, are particularly worried about how the Tef ratings will affect them. This is because universities are assessed partly based on how they do in the National Student Survey, where quite a few top universities tend to score poorly. For LSE, this could have terrible consequences as 70% of their students are internationals. Others, such as the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), worry that the way Tef is set up will punish specialist schools that only teach certain fields, even though they may be world-leading in the subjects they do teach.

In this atmosphere of uncertainty and increasing hostility towards what is foreign, the international student community can only hope that whatever policy path is walked down in the end, no irreversible harm will be done to the mutually beneficial relationship that is international education for both students and host countries.

You can read more about the reforms here, here and here.

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