What will international students make of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)?

Martyn Edwards is the Head of Marketing and Business Development at IDP Education UK. He has worked in UK universities as part of international offices and as Head of Marketing and Communications for the Education UK Partnership in the British Council.

The latest IDP research into student decision making shows strongly that rankings are the most influential source of information when students are exploring their overseas study options. There is clear appetite for transparent data and evidence that indicates teaching quality, enabling students to validate their choices.

Based on the information provided in the recent BIS White Paper, the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) should, in principle, be a welcome development for international students and their parents.

The White Paper sets out student satisfaction, retention and employability rates as the core focus for the TEF. These areas have potential value for international students as key areas which are commonly evaluated by students interested in making a more informed decision. Many global rankings focus on research measures as part of their methodology and lesser attention is paid to teaching quality, student retention and graduate employability. The TEF could therefore help to go some way to fill this knowledge gap for international undergraduate students in particular.

Very often the student and their parents have concerns over the transition from high school into a university environment that is perceived to be different and as a result more challenging than what they are used to in their home country. Students may be living away from their families for the first time, they are experiencing new learning styles and modes of assessment, often in a second language. A framework with meaningful inclusion of metrics relating to contact hours, levels of academic support and student success through their likelihood of completing the programmes is therefore important and reassuring. TEF would need to ensure it links to UK public information and is marketed clearly to international students to ensure they can benefit from this information.

IDP research also shows that in terms of student perceptions of the five major English Language speaking study destinations, the UK falls some way behind the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand with regards to graduate employment opportunities. The inclusion of this metric in TEF could, with careful marketing, go a long way to boosting the UK’s image in this priority area in prospective student decision making.

Whilst not every student is necessarily motivated by financial gain, a considerable amount of existing survey data suggests that career progression and tangible return on investment are extremely influential factors in the decision making process. When selecting an institution, students often seek out indicators such as employment rates and starting salaries, in addition to softer information such as alumni case studies and testimonials. Inclusion of graduate employment outcomes as a core metric will provide clear data, which is easily comparable across institutions.

The fact that the TEF will be an objective assessment, carried out on behalf of the UK Government, similar to the REF, will give it a greater level of prestige and veracity in the international community. The UK government should invest in ensuring its benefit is clearly articulated to education advisors globally. The fact that the TEF is also managed by an Office for Students (OfS) will also contribute to the credibility of the measure. An Office for student choice will demonstrate the commitment of the sector and indeed regulators to making the objectives of the TEF a reality, while simplifying a complex quality system.

The latest Independent Schools Council (ISC) census for 2016 shows that the UK remains competitive when it comes to attracting some of the best and brightest young minds to the UK, many of whom will hopefully remain here to continue their further studies. However we cannot be complacent, the numbers of international undergraduates choosing the US and Canada have reached record levels, and we as the UK risk losing a generation of students to our competitors. A robust TEF which helps to form part of a compelling narrative coherently articulating the UK’s high quality teaching and the global career benefits of studying in the UK is something we as a sector should be working together to achieve. Its success will depend on how it is promoted to students and how it develops to respond to student perceptions of the UK.


IDP Education

IDP Education has a rich history spanning five decades. Since it was originally established in 1969 as an international aid organisation, IDP Education has been an industry leader in facilitating and promoting international education.

Over the last decade, IDP’s network of 650 trained counsellors has helped to place almost a quarter of a million students from over 30 different countries into higher education. IDP regularly gather data and produce analysis on the thought processes and motivations of globally mobile students. 

IDP is a member of Exporting Education UK.