Following the recent release of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) results, Hobsons – the student recruitment and retention solutions company – has today (Tuesday 18 July 2017) revealed findings on international students’ awareness, knowledge and perceptions of the framework. The TEF is a government-backed assessment of undergraduate teaching quality in higher education institutions. The inaugural results were published on 22 June 2017.

Hobsons’ research highlights that many international students have a low awareness and knowledge of the TEF, providing evidence to suggest that there is more that the higher education sector can do to communicate what the TEF represents to international students. The research surveyed over 3,300 international students and key findings include:

  • Only 21.2% of international students claim to have heard of the TEF, while 64.4% of international students who have heard of the TEF say it has not been very well explained to them.
  • Of those that have heard of the TEF, 79.5% incorrectly believe it measures the teaching quality of both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. However, 84.3% believe a university with good undergraduate teaching quality would also have good postgraduate teaching quality.
  • Both international students who have heard of the TEF and those who haven’t said they would be more likely to choose a university with a Gold TEF Award above one with high rankings. However, they would be more likely to choose a university with high rankings above one with a Silver or Bronze Award.

The findings suggest that many international students have a low awareness of what the TEF is, what is measured and how it is assessed. However, Hobsons’ findings indicate that even though many international students have a low awareness and knowledge of the TEF, the ratings play a significant role in their decision-making. Moreover, even if international students do understand that the TEF relates only to undergraduate teaching, they’re still likely to use it as a proxy for postgraduate teaching.

Paul Raybould, Director of Marketing & Market Intelligence at Hobsons EMEA, said: “With the motivation behind the establishment of the TEF being to help students choose a university, the higher education sector could do better at communicating what the TEF is to international students. By clarifying its scope, as well as what the ratings mean, the higher education sector could ensure that international students can use the results to best inform their decisions. Universities in particular would benefit from clearly communicating what the TEF represents for their institution in terms of the student experience."

“As shown in our International Student Survey (ISS) 2017, there is an opportunity for lower-ranked institutions to increase their appeal to international students, especially if they have a Gold TEF Award. Concurrently, there is a lot that institutions who have not done so well in the TEF results can do to increase their appeal to international students. By adopting the recommendations from Hobsons’ ISS report – from the way institutions engage on social media to adopting a more welcoming tone and approach towards international students – universities can achieve success and maintain the UK’s global leadership in higher education.”

What do international students think about the TEF?

As part of the survey, respondents were asked if they have any comments or concerns about the TEF:

  • “As an international student, it's something I've never heard about when making my choice, and to this day I don't know what it is or how reputable it is.”
  • “Nobody says anything to international students about the TEF. It could help a lot of us to make better and more critical judgments when deciding where to study.”
  • “Teaching Excellence framework should in some cases be contained in students brochure or hand books to enhance access to the successes of the University and explore best ways to contribute towards sustaining their excellent performance and ratings.”
  • “A little bit more effort should go into explaining TEF to international students. I only recently heard about it.”

Hobsons works with higher education institutions and industry bodies to conduct market research, data analysis, digital marketing and a range of student recruitment and retention services. Hobsons is also responsible for the International Student Survey – the world’s largest survey of pre-enrolled international students.


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For further information, infographics or the full findings, please contact:

Harry Padfield

Note to Editors:

  1. The survey took place during a 6 day period (from Tueday 4 July –  Sunday 9 July 2017) and surveyed the views of 3,335 international students. 16,708 international students were invited to participate. The response rate was 19.96%.
  2. The size of the data set along with the number and quality of the responses has enabled very robust student segmentation and insight into the influences of international students’ decision-making processes, how they engage with universities, and what they expect from universities in the lead up to making their final decision.
  3. Other findings from this survey include the following:
    • 87.3% of international students that have heard of the TEF said that it helps them understand teaching quality at a particular university. 24.5% think that a Bronze Award means teaching quality is ‘unsatisfactory’.
    • 72.6% of international students who have heard of the TEF correctly identified that ‘TEF ratings are based on statistics such as dropout rates, student satisfaction survey results and graduate employment rates’. However 55.3% also thought ‘TEF results are based on random inspections of lectures and classes by inspectors from the Department for Education’. 
  4. Hobsons conduct an annual International Student Survey. To download this year’s full report, visit


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