University of Southampton Given Lowest Rank in TEF: University Responds


The University of Southampton has received a ‘bronze’ rank, the lowest in the bronze, silver, gold ranking, in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) when it launched earlier this month. The University, however, is making an appeal for their rank in the TEF.

The University of Southampton, alongside London School of Economics (LSE) and the University of Liverpool is considered to have had a surprising under performance in the TEF, while the University of Buckingham – a small private university – performed among the highest in the TEF.

The TEF noted that Southampton had a number of merits in metrics on the performance of students from a diverse range of backgrounds and the academic rigour and challenge of its courses.

The rankings are awarded by an assessment panel, based on statistical analysis of areas including dropout rates, National Student Survey results and graduate employment rates.

Among the Russell Group universities, just 8 out of 21 institutions that took part in the TEF were awarded the gold rating, while 10 got silver, the remaining three listed above received bronze.

This result comes after a shocking performance by the University of Southampton in The Complete University Guide and the Guardian‘s League Table this year where it fell significantly and is no longer considered to be a top 20 UK university by both.


The University of Southampton’s Response and Criticism of the TEF

The University of Southampton has signalled an intention to appeal the result and has complained for similar reasons to those shown by the Students’ Unions’ open letter.

Sir Christopher Snowden, Vice-Chancellor and President, said:

It is hard to have confidence in a Teaching Excellence Framework which appears devoid of any meaningful assessment of teaching. I know I am not alone in having deep concerns about its subjective assessment, its lack of transparency, and with different benchmarks for each institution removing any sense of equity and equality of assessment.

Our own student satisfaction metrics, including satisfaction with teaching, are better than some of those universities who have been awarded Silver and Gold today. This was a pilot scheme and there are serious lessons to be learned if the TEF is to gain public confidence.

The TEF has not avoided wider criticism for its results with a number of students’ unions, including the University of Southampton’s Students’ Union, signing an open letter in the Guardian claiming that the TEF is arbitrary and does not have an actual measure of teaching excellence.

In a statement to the Wessex Scene, Union President, Alex Hovden, said:

Everything about the Teaching Excellence Framework is quite laughable really. From the Olympic style “Gold/Silver/Bronze” rating system, which seems to have been thought up by someone in an office in Whitehall during the summer when the Olympics were on, to the fact that the metrics are not consistent across institutions (and also not transparent), right through to the fact that what it seems to be measuring is student satisfaction as opposed to absolute teaching quality.

What does “bronze” level teaching look like? What does “gold” level teaching look like? Frankly, I’m clueless and I not only support the University in their appeal against their rating, but I would also urge them to opt out of it for future years in protest.

Issues concerning the methodology of the TEF seem to be paramount in the criticisms of the results awarded. Some have criticised the TEF for its arbitrary assessment methods and limited classification method that does not show an accurate measurement of teaching standards. It will be curious to see how the TEF progresses beyond its pilot year and whether these results will change through appeal.


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