Quality and standards
Quality assessment of universities and colleges
Each UK country has its own way of ensuring that universities and colleges meet high standards. This is known as their quality assessment system.
You should make sure that the university or college you choose is covered by the relevant quality assessment system. It needs to be for you to get financial support like student loans.
The Office for Students (OfS) is the regulator for higher education regulator in England.
OfS maintains a list of higher education providers, called a register. Registered providers go through a rigorous assessment to show that they meet the high standards required. This is known as a baseline.
All universities and colleges on Discover Uni are either registered, or the courses you see are quality assured by a registered provider
The Department for the Economy is responsible for assessing the quality of higher education providers in Northern Ireland.
It does this through the Annual Provider Review, a rigorous assessment of information and data. Providers are assessed against a high baseline standard, with four possible outcomes:
The provider fully meets requirements for quality and standard
Meets requirements with conditions
The provider meets requirements for quality and standards, and is implementing an action plan to improve in some areas.
The annual provider review outcome for this provider is not yet available. A ‘pending’ outcome means that the process has not yet been completed for this provider. This is a neutral outcome and does not indicate either a positive or negative position.
Does not meet requirements
This provider does not currently meet requirements for quality and standards. It is subject to additional scrutiny and has an action plan to address areas of concern.
You can see Annual Provider Review outcomes on our university and college pages.
The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) oversees the quality of Scottish higher education.
SFC does this through the five elements of its Quality Enhancement Framework (QEF):
Enhancement Led Institutional Review (ELIR)
The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Scotland carries out independent external reviews on how universities secure academic standards and improve the student experience.
Institution Led Review (ILR)
Scottish universities conduct internal subject reviews and report annually to SFC. All university courses must be reviewed over a six-year cycle.
Encouraging and supporting students to actively share in the quality of their education.
A national programme of activities on a chosen theme to share innovation in learning and teaching across the sector.
Ensuring clear, accurate and accessible information to inform student choice, enhance student engagement in quality improvement, and provide assurance on standards.
The five elements of the QEF collectively provide public assurance about the security of academic standards and the quality of learning opportunities at Scottish universities.
You can see ELIR reports by following the links on our university and college pages.
The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) oversees the quality of higher education in Wales. The Quality Assessment Framework for Higher Education in Wales sets out the mechanisms through which HEFCW assure itself that the quality of education meets the needs of those receiving it. As part of this, institutions undergo cyclical external quality assurance reviews, in line with the European Standards and Guidelines. The framework is underpinned by working in partnership with students.
The framework also includes a requirement for institutions to align with the following baseline requirements:
- The frameworks for higher education qualifications, as set out in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education;
- The Expectations, Core and Common practices of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education; together with characteristics statements and subject benchmark statements, where appropriate;
- the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales;
- Welsh language requirements;
- The Higher Education Code of Governance or ColegauCymru code of good governance for institutions in Wales, as appropriate;
- HEFCW’s financial sustainability, management and governance requirements, and mission and strategy for higher education provision;
- The providers’ obligations under consumer law, as set out by the Competition and Markets Authority;
- The guidance set out in the Office of the Independent Adjudicator’s Good Practice Framework.
You can see quality assessment reports on the QAA website by following the links on our university and college pages.
Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF)
The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was introduced by the Government in England in 2017. It is a national scheme run by the Office for Students (OfS) that aims to encourage higher education providers to improve and deliver excellence in the areas that students care about the most: teaching, learning and student outcomes (whether students go on to managerial or professional employment, or further study). The TEF does this by assessing and rating universities and colleges for excellence above a set of minimum requirements for quality and standards.
Following consultation, the OfS have introduced a new TEF framework for 2023. Providers that take part in TEF 2023 can receive an overall rating as well as two underpinning ratings – one for the student experience and one for student outcomes. The new TEF exercise will take place in 2023. All providers in England currently registered with the OfS must take part in the exercise, and providers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can participate on a voluntary basis.
The TEF 2023 will recognise increasing degrees of excellence above the baseline quality expectations and universities and colleges can receive one of three ratings: ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’, or ‘Bronze’. Where there is an absence of excellence above the minimum requirements, the outcome will be ‘Requires improvement’. The ratings reflect the extent to which a provider delivers an excellent experience and outcomes for its mix of undergraduate students and across the range of its undergraduate courses and subjects. The awards will last for four years. You can find out more on the OfS website.
As current TEF awards were made several years ago, they may not provide an up-to-date reflection of teaching quality, so the OfS has advised universities and colleges to stop advertising their awards. Information on the TEF awards institutions currently hold can be found at the TEF outcomes page on the OfS website, but this information may be less relevant to prospective students due to the historic nature of the awards.