Teaching Excellence in Higher Education

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Challenges, Changes and the Teaching Excellence Framework



Table of contents

(8 chapters)

This chapter critically examines how recent government papers and policies have informed and contextualised the new Higher Education and Research Bill (HERB) passed in April 2017. In particular, it concerns itself with the issue of ‘teaching excellence’, through what has been termed the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) that has emerged as a key plank of the current government’s policy for future funding of higher education (HE). It will consider the other spurs for reform in HERB, such as the desire to create a culture in HE where teaching has equal status with research, the need to ensure that universities provide better information about their courses and the experiences that they can offer students and the predictable governmental requirement for institutions to give value for money and to be clearly held accountable for any failure to provide a quality service to students. Lastly, there is also a strong emphasis on widening student participation across the sector and ‘levelling the playing field’ so that new providers can set up with the minimum of red tape. It is interesting to note how each of these additional areas for reform is clearly linked to TEF, which, this chapter will argue, will be the key vehicle used to drive them forward.


With the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the status of teaching has been moved towards the centre of concerns in the UK higher education (HE) sector. This interest develops further the notion of teaching excellence created through various institutional and sectoral schemes such as the Higher Education Academy (HEA) fellowship. Whilst excellence schemes and the TEF all highlight the importance of teaching, they also run the danger of reducing it to lists and simplified proxies.

This chapter argues that reductive characterisations of teaching, through metrics supporting the TEF, such as the national student survey, or ‘idealised’ descriptions of the foundational aspects of ‘excellent practice’, all lead to partial accounts of the teaching process. Such characterisations might lead to creeping performativity and increasing organisational attempts to control. An alternative account of teaching is proposed based on complexity theory. This sees teaching as emergent, multifaceted and contextually based. It refutes notions of ‘best practice’ and argues that any attempt to capture ‘excellent practice’ is to reduce the holistic nature of the processes that bring teaching, learning, curriculum and assessment together.


This chapter starts by interrogating the notion of teaching excellence. It then moves on to discussing some of the data sources currently used in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to monitor and measure the quality of teaching. What do these sources actually reveal about teaching excellence and how might we make better use of them? From large-scale national censuses like the National Student Survey (NSS) to institutional data sets such as teaching observations, the contribution that each source makes to our understanding of the quality of HE teaching is underexplored and contested. It is argued that there is a need for more transparent debate across HEIs and the sector as a whole about the benefits and limitations of such data as well as greater acknowledgement of the role of collaboration over competition. The chapter concludes that teaching excellence is a marketised misconception of the complex reality of the reciprocal relationship between teaching and learning. Contrary to policy rhetoric and far from encouraging an environment of collegial improvement, it introduces an unhelpful ethos of contrived competition into what is essentially an interdependent relationship underpinned by collective collaboration. It is by focusing attention on the latter where the real gains and insights are likely to be made.


This chapter considers the opportunities and challenges for HE to develop, support and celebrate excellent teaching. Drawing on conceptualisations of teaching excellence in quality frameworks and in the literature, it considers how teaching quality has traditionally been interpreted, suggesting (as in Chapter 2) that there is a need for more nuanced and comprehensive understandings of teaching excellence to be developed, demonstrated, recognised and rewarded, to reflect the complex nature of teaching excellence across the academic career profile. It considers how institutions might build and communicate shared understandings of excellence in teaching and promote a culture in which excellence at all levels of teaching is valued in the same way as research. It discusses the ways in which the professional learning and support needs of academics can be met at various stages of the academic career, to develop in teaching faculty and education leaders a sense of being appreciated, connected and competent in their contribution and commitment to teaching excellence.

Cover of Teaching Excellence in Higher Education
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Book series
Great Debates in Higher Education
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