The On-Going Quest for Teaching Excellence


Over the past decade, Teaching Excellence has risen right up the agenda of universities around the world. It’s worth pausing a moment to consider, and reflect on, from whence this concern began. Dating back to the 1990s, nations around the globe had either established or were in the process of establishing quality assurance frameworks which outlined baseline standards for education. Such frameworks were used to audit universities' educational offer, and external requirements to address accountability, value for money, and support for students’ credit transferability.

Concurrently, differentiation of an institution’s educational offer had become increasingly important, resulting from the marketisation of higher education and greater international mobility. Subsequently, the term ‘quality enhancement’ - further to the range of ‘value adds’ that institutions adopted to help both differentiate their offer, demonstrating the added benefits students gained from studying at their institutions. Thus began the global quest for ’teaching excellence’.

The UK has had a long history of investment in developing teaching excellence, summarised in the timeline below, which some readers will be familiar with. For the purposes of this commentary, the journey will begin in 2004.

The UK Higher Education Academy

In 2004, the Higher Education Academy (HEA) was launched, bringing together a range of disparate smaller organisations which, whilst focused on enhancing education, often duplicated the work of each other, not necessarily easy to navigate, and did not deliver holistic strategic impact. Put simply, the vision, of the HEA was to professionalise higher education teaching, working with higher education institutions alongside a range of stakeholders (including governments of the four nations of the UK). Through its work, best practices in quality enhancement were showcased, and the quest to define ’teaching excellence’ began.

In 2016, in anticipation of England’s introduction of a teaching excellence framework, a sub-set of the HEA’S Pro-vice-chancellor (PVC) network met to consider what a teaching excellence framework might comprise, with all agreeing a strategic approach with a clear plan of action were key components. The framework they put forward three main domains, later incorporated in the GTEA framework, summarised below.

Source: Global Teaching Excellence: Strategies and Priorities (Higher EducationAcademy, 2018)

Norway’s Centres for Excellence Initiative

In 2017, I was invited to discuss the evolution of Norway’s Centres for Excellence (CfE) initiative, which took some of its inspiration from the work undertaken in the UK, whilst recognising that the major shortcoming of the UK’s approach in their Centres for Excellence initiative was a failure to coordinate at the national level, or undertake rigorous monitoring and evaluation of impact of the whole scheme thereby to determining which initiatives produced the greatest positive impact. Further to the CfE Steering Group’s discussion, a framework was determined. This framework, taking a very strategic approach, reflected that teaching evaluation is a process of enhancement, is not risk-averse, and is supported by institutional culture and context. Chairing two rounds of this initiative led to my feeding back ideas into UK discussions; particularly to England’s development of its own Teaching Excellence Framework.

HEA involvement in developing the English Teaching Excellence Framework and subsequently the Global Teaching Excellence Framework

In developing the English framework, a wide-ranging group of expert stakeholders were assembled to influence the overall shape and constituent parts. The Higher Education Academy (HEA) had worked closely with its PVC network who were concerned to include a strong vision and strategic focus, and audit how this strategy was subsequently delivered (and to what effect), and an action plan further to the evaluation of areas of strength and areas where clearly more work needed to be done – determining that ‘Teaching Excellence’ was a journey, not an absolute. To capture all the work that had gone into the PVC s determination of an agreed Teaching Excellence Framework, it was decided to use their model to underpin a new, global teaching award, to be run in conjunction with Times Higher Education - the Global Teaching Excellence Award. This framework - slightly changed for the purposes of a global audience, comprised of the domains in Table 1.

After each of the three rounds of the GTEA, an independent evaluation was conducted. Key findings from these evaluations centred around firstly, what had worked well: a clear demonstration of a strategic direction for teaching and learning; and a demonstrable commitment to providing students with a well-rounded learning experience and support. And secondly, what not so well: lack of explicit evidence and too many segmented initiatives. By and large, all the universities participating from around the globe agreed that the process of auditing and undertaking a self-evaluation of their educational offer and impact had been worthwhile, as had, indeed, determining a set of actions to take their university forward to better meet the needs of their students.


The E-note Erasmus Project (European Network on Teaching Excellence), was a three-year project which has recently ended, compiled case studies of teaching excellence initiatives across Europe, and gathered exemplars of best practice in training for lecturers both at the undergraduate and post-graduate level. Further to its summary findings and workshop event in June 2023, the conclusions made it clear that a pan-university European approach to promoting teaching excellence had been welcomed by participants, with recommendations stating that this coordination could be even stronger.

Reflections on the England's TEF 2023 exercise

An Office for Students (OFS) publication, undertaken by Professor Dilly Fung published an independent analysis of the most recent English TEF exercise, discussing the approaches to strategic improvements made in the submissions of 31 providers (out of 228) whose TEF ratings had improved this cycle. The two main areas highlighted were 1) how providers planned for and implemented their strategy and vision, and 2) evidenced and evaluated their successes. Furthermore, the report highlighted the importance of a range of partnerships. These may be with students, industry-related or civic. The best providers described the use of an  operational framework to drive strategic change relating to teaching, curriculum design and student experience. Using these approaches, most of the 31 providers made explicit links between their strategic plan and vision, the actions taken, and subsequence impact and evaluation of improvements. The use of university-wide framework also allowed for consistent and coherent delivery. Undoubtedly, there will be much more discussion around what we can learn from these ‘most improved’ to ensure that we continue our quest for Teaching Excellence.

Final reflections of Teaching Excellence

Further to the robust work undertaken in evaluating both England’s TEF exercise and Norway’s CfE exercise - would it not be good to compare these examples of ‘teaching excellence’ with the rest of the world? And pull in the project findings of E-Note? Is it now time to move the myriad exemplary case studies beyond the confines of the nations mentioned above, and take a more global perspective, once again, on Teaching Excellence? Which begs the question, is now the time for a new, super-charged GTEA to be resurrected? And, if so, by whom? I leave that one with you!

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