Bitter sweet TEF reflection

Yesterday I avoided comment on social media about TEF, because I had such mixed feelings about the exercise. We should celebrate great teaching and if TEF helps with this then that’s a good thing, but we need to take care that TEF does not divide a community which is rich in collaboration, mutual encouragement and shared mission. Despite the well reported limitations of the TEF data, universities and individuals have been excited with some outcomes. Being a party pooper I’d question whether we should be so celebratory when good colleagues, in good institutions, doing important work, and in many cases providing excellent teaching on the ground, are now labelled as ‘third tier’. I struggle with that. It seems the institutions who faired less well have been left alone to point out the limitations of TEF, which in the aftermath of the results, makes those speaking out like sore losers. I don’t believe that is fair when we are all aware of the limitations of the measure. In our immediate celebratory reactions we are potentially signaling uncritical acceptance and alienating colleagues in the process. Some collective sensitivity may be part of the answer.

Another thought as the results came in was about what TEF does to existing alumni. I have a degree from bronze, silver and gold rated institutions. By far the most impactful, rewarding and engaging of these was my ‘bronze rated degree’ (from Liverpool, by the way). Does TEF devalue the sense of worth for existing qualifications? I fear it might. As a ‘bronze alumni’ I feel outraged at this label and am clear that it absolutely does not reflect my experience. As we start to categorise universities in this way, we need to think about the consequences for past as well a future students.

Unfortunately the celebration of TEF results is bitter sweet.

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