Durham University denied gold status in new 'teaching excellence' ratings system - but Newcastle achieves top grade

Picture by Ian Day
Picture by Ian Day

Durham University has missed out on the top gold rating for teaching excellence under a new grading scheme.

Just over a third of the Russell Group universities - considered among the best in the UK - scored gold in new assessments of higher education teaching quality.

Newcastle was among them, but Durham's absence from will come as a surprise to many as the institution is usually regarded as one of the very best in the country, a close follower to Oxford and Cambridge.

In total, 21 of 24 universities in the Group took part in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

An analysis of the results shows that eight of these universities, often seen as prestigious, research-intensive institutions, gained gold (38%).

They are: Birmingham, Cambridge, Exeter, Imperial College London, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham and Oxford.

A further 10 were given a silver award (48%).

They are: Bristol, Cardiff, Durham, King's College London, University College London, Manchester, Queen Mary University of London, Sheffield, Warwick and York.

The three Russell Group universities (14%) to be handed a bronze award were the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the University of Liverpool and the University of Southampton.

Southampton has confirmed it is looking at appealing the decision.

Three institutions in the Group did not take part in the voluntary exercise - Edinburgh, Glasgow and Queen's University Belfast.

Sir Christopher Snowden, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton, 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."

LSE interim director Professor Julia Black said: "LSE fully supports the drive for teaching excellence and we are pleased the TEF panel recognises the resources we have committed to improve our student experience, including devoting an additional £11 million to education over three years."

She added: "We recognise that we have work to do but we are confident that the education initiatives that we have under way will lead to improvements for our students.

"However, the challenges around TEF and the limits to the measures it employs are also well documented. We look forward to working with the Government in reviewing and revising the TEF in the near future."

A Liverpool University spokesman said: "We're working very hard to ensure students have a great experience at university and go on to achieve success in their chosen careers, and there is a lot of evidence this is happening, so it is of course disappointing to receive a bronze rating.

"We think it's important to note the TEF is not an absolute measure of quality and to put it in context alongside the many other things students may take into account when considering where to study."

He added: "This is essentially a trial year for the TEF and we support the planned review of the process as we believe that more work is needed to ensure it accurately reflects what students can expect from different institutions."