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TEF: what's it all about?

You’ve probably already come across the Courtauld SU statement that was circulated last Monday. The Students’ Union is holding an all-student referendum on the 20th of January on our position as a student body regarding the NSS (National Students’ Survey) boycott on TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework). The NUS (National Union of Students) have encouraged all university bodies to boycott the yearly NSS.

What is TEF and NSS?

TEF stands for Teaching Excellence Framework. The TEF is a government scheme proposed to measure the quality of teaching at Higher Education Institutions in England. The Green Paper was introduced in November 2015 by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and after a period of consultation a government White Paper was published. You can read this on the site. Stage one of the scheme was then launched in 2016.

So, what’s the big deal? Why are we having a referendum?

When you reach your final year at undergraduate level, you will have to (or may already have) filled out a survey known as the NSS.* You will have probably come across this data in the ‘student satisfaction’ section of league tables. Last year, the Courtauld received an overall satisfaction score of 94%, putting us at ninth for History of Art in the Complete University Guide.

The TEF uses this data collected from the NSS and combines it with other statistics such as employment rates and destinations of leavers to create an average score for universities. Based on this score they will then be awarded a ‘gold’, ‘silver’ or ‘bronze’ rating by panels, who will take into account the data and a supporting statement submitted by the university administration.

As standard, all participating institutes will be able to raise their fees in line with inflation to £9,250. Then, dependent on the rating an institution receives, they will be allowed to raise their fees again from academic year 2019/20. ‘Bronze’ institutions will be entitled to increase their fees by 50% of the inflationary increase. ‘Silver’ and ‘gold’ institutions will be able to increase their fees by 100% of the inflationary increase.

The Courtauld is presently adopting the Teaching Excellence Framework, with the published fees for 2017/18 currently published at £9,250.

Let’s get to the point...

The NUS (National Union of Students) is advocating for a boycott of the NSS to derail the TEF. If students do not fill in the NSS, then the data will become invalid and unable to be used in the calculation of future fee raises (for NSS data to be valid, 50% of final year undergraduates must complete the survey).

If the student body votes to boycott the NSS, the Courtauld SU would discourage all final year students from completing the survey.

If the student body votes to complete the NSS, the Courtauld SU would encourage all final year students to complete the NSS as usual.

To boycott or not to boycott?

The NUS states the TEF creates a false market within Higher Education where higher fees are attributed to institutes that may not have the best teaching, only the best score, as well as pricing many students out of the best education.

In principle, the TEF gives teachers recognition for their work and prioritizes student feedback. However, the NUS believes that the link to fees and the marketisation of Higher Education will damage access to Higher Education. The aim is not to completely eradicate the TEF, but to alter the mechanisms by which it runs.

By not filling out the survey, students will not be feeding into the data that will be used to calculate fees for 2019/20 which is when the most drastic raise is set to occur. If the boycott goes ahead, a survey will be internally circulated for BA3 students in order to improve future students’ university experience.

The pro-TEF position believes that giving students access to data on teaching as well as research allows them to make well-informed decisions about where to study, as the ‘bronze’, ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ awards will highlight institutions with the best quality teaching. The TEF has the potential to encourage a higher quality of teaching and greater accountability as student feedback would be more closely scrutinised.

What about other universities? What have they decided?

King’s College London University College London Oxford Reading Bristol Goldsmiths Brunel Central School for Speech and Drama University of the Arts London Warwick Bath Manchester Sheffield Sheffield Hallam Liverpool Queen Mary’s London Sussex

Aberdeen School of Oriental and African Studies Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

...have decided to boycott NSS.

Bath Spa



...are yet to decide.


University of East Anglia


...have decided to complete the NSS.

All Courtauld students, undergraduate and postgraduate, will be voting on this issue between Friday 20th January until Sunday 22nd January, with a link to vote sent out to all students via email. Results of the referendum will be circulated on Monday 23rd January.

The choice is now yours.

* If you are a BA3 student and wish to withdraw your completed NSS, please email by the 30th April.

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