Some incorrect claims have been made about the Teaching Excellence Framework, including the changes to tuition fees that have been proposed. Here we set out the facts.
Q: Are universities that are already publicising next year’s fees jumping the gun before this has been finalised?
A: No, this isn’t the case. While some universities may be publicising their fees for 2017/18, they are not bypassing proper scrutiny. These changes will still be subject to parliamentary scrutiny when they are laid before parliament this autumn and universities will not be able to actually raise their fees until the changes have passed through this process.
Any universities that have already advertised their increased fees in line with inflation for 2017/18 have been told that they have passed the quality criteria for the first year of TEF. They have chosen to set their fees out now to give students as much notice as possible of what the 2017/18 fees may be.
Q: What is the Teaching Excellence Framework?
A: We know that the teaching students receive at university can transform their life chances. But we also know that there’s a lack of clear information available to applicants about the quality of teaching at universities and a variation in the quality of experiences that students receive, depending on the university they go to. The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is designed to address this head on.
The new framework will, for the first time, link the funding of teaching in higher education to quality and not simply quantity - a principle that has long been established for research funding. This will work by assessing providers on the quality of teaching and student experience they provide – taking into account factors such as student satisfaction, academic results and retention rates. Providers that meet these standards and excel will be able to increase their fees in line with inflation and those that don’t may face having their fees reviewed. These ratings will then be published so that applicants have more information about where teaching is outstanding, allowing them to make better choices about where they choose to study.
This is a major change for higher education and as such the framework will be introduced gradually, with the criteria getting more rigorous as the framework develops.
Q: Aren’t these changes just being introduced just as a way to increase fees?
A: Not at all. This is about improving the quality of teaching and putting it at the heart of our universities, making sure students get the very best possible value for money. By introducing incentives for universities to focus on teaching, we want to put a stop to unacceptable variation in quality – for example, students at one institution can get double the teaching time as peers at another institution* – even when studying the same subject and three in ten students think the academic experience of higher education is poor value**.
Universities will not be able to increase their fees unless they pass the quality bars set.
As the framework develops, it will become increasingly rigorous and robust, with additional criteria, such as a university’s retention and graduate employment rates, being introduced to the judging process.
It’s also about choice and information – publishing these ratings will put clear, understandable information into the hands of students, helping them to make better informed decisions about where they choose to study.
Q: I’m starting university in autumn 2016. Will my fees go up?
A: No. Fees caps are not changing for academic year 2016/17. The first year of the Teaching Excellence Framework will affect students starting in 2017/18. Providers will only be able to raise their fees in line with inflation if they pass the quality criteria for the first year of TEF and even then, it will be up to providers to decide whether they wish to increase their fees.
Q: Does this mean all universities will be increasing their fees in 2017/18?
A: Universities will not be allowed to automatically increase their fees next year. A provider will only be allowed to increase their fees in line with inflation if they have passed the quality criteria of the first year of the Teaching Excellence Framework. And, even if they have passed this quality bar, it is still up to individual providers to decide whether they wish to increase their fees. Students can check the provider website to see whether or not they are planning to keep their fees the same or increase them.
Q: Will current students be affected by fee increases?
A: Students are generally covered by consumer protection law, which means that providers will only be able to change the fees of current students if they have made it made it explicitly clear that this could be a possibility in the funding agreement that all students sign. This is also the case for any students that may have accepted a place on a course this year but have deferred their entry until 2017/18.
Q: Will fees rise faster than inflation in the future?
A: The government has no plans to increase maximum fee caps by more than inflation.
Q: If an institution is still charging the same as they did before, it means they are poor quality?
A: No. It is the TEF rating which will show the quality, not the fees that the provider is charging. It may well be that some providers receive a high quality rating, but decide not to charge the higher fee level based on inflation.
Q: Surely universities get plenty of money already?
A: The ability for the Government to raise fees in line with inflation has been in place since 2004, from past legislation. Because of inflation and increasing costs for universities, the real-terms value of the £9,000 tuition fees in 2012 is now £8,500. Keeping fees the same forever would lead to universities receiving a lot less funding to support quality teaching for our young people.
Q: Have providers been allowed to increase their fees next year without any real quality checks?
A: Providers will only be able to increase fees in line with inflation next year if they have passed the relevant quality assurance criteria for TEF Year One. And, as set out in the government White Paper in May, for this first year of TEF, this includes holding a successful quality review (which involves checks such as site visits).
The introduction of this new framework and the principle of funding teaching based on quality for the first time is a major change for higher education and as such, the framework is being introduced gradually. This means that the assessment process that universities will have to meet to be judged as good enough to raise their fees in line with inflation will become even more rigorous and more robust over the next few years - and we are clear that only those that excel will pass the bar. This will mean that outstanding teaching is rightly rewarded, but also, that poor teaching, which is not giving students value for money, may see a provider have their fees reviewed.
*Which? Higher Education 2013 ‘The Student Academic Experience Survey’ http://www.hepi.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/1.Higher_Educational