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New league tables for teaching quality at university are to be classified into three grades of gold, silver and bronze. However, unlike the Olympics, bronze will signify universities that are of "satisfactory quality" but "likely to be significantly below benchmark in one or more areas”.
These new ratings, which form part of the government’s teaching excellence framework (TEF), will come into force from the middle of next year and will be available to students applying to university in Autumn next year.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister has stated that the plan will give students better information about teaching quality.
"By setting out clear incentives for universities, the framework will drive up quality in the sector at the same time as improving student choice and crucially, graduate outcomes - so that we can be confident we have the skills employers need now and for the future.
“The framework will give students clear, understandable information about where the best teaching is on offer and for the first time place teaching quality on a par with research at our universities.”
Some agree with the Universities Minister, such as David Phoenix, chair of the MillionPlus group of new universities who suggests that the framework will "take proper account of the diverse range of universities and higher education students".
However Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron notes that the continual increase in fees doesn’t offer students a clear picture of the debt they might face.
The rankings will be awarded by a panel of assessors, will last for up to three years and will be based on statistics including dropout rates, student satisfaction survey results and graduate employment rates, including the proportion of graduates who go on to work in high-skill jobs. Some critics argue that none of the indicators directly measure teaching quality.
Gold grades will be awarded to a university if its courses offer “outstanding levels of stretch that ensures all students are significantly challenged to achieve their full potential”. Students will need to be “frequently engaged with developments from the forefront of research, scholarship or practice”.
Silver grades will be awarded to universities offering courses with “high levels of stretch that ensures all students are significantly challenged.”
Universities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could opt in to the TEF and receive ratings, although the ratings will only affect funding for universities in England.
For courses beginning in Autumn 2018, universities will be able to charge tuition fees of over £9,500. The higher fees will be linked to teaching quality, however all three quality bands will be able to apply for the increase.
After 2018 fee increases will be based on teaching quality with different levels of fees depending on the teaching quality of the university. Additional criteria will also include retention rates and graduate employment rates as the fees framework develops.