Celebrating Excellence in Teaching

Professor Martin Williams

Last week saw a number of significant events in the teaching calendar. On Thursday, the 2023 Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) results were announced. Oxford was awarded a Gold overall rating, based on Gold ratings in both of the sub-categories of student experience and student outcomes – one of only four Russell Group institutions to achieve this triple-gold outcome. This news came just one day after Oxford once again topped the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024 for a record eighth consecutive year.

The TEF is a rather lower-profile event than its research counterpart, the Research Excellence Framework. It doesn’t impinge on individual academics in the same way, and many colleagues may have been only dimly aware it was happening. Nevertheless, a lot of work went into our submission, and the 2023 TEF represents the most rigorous external assessment of our teaching for many years, judged by panels of our peers. Our top rating is a significant collective achievement that reflects credit on all our academic and professional staff engaged in teaching and supporting students, and is a ringing endorsement of our personalised, collegiate approach.

That Thursday evening, I was also delighted to attend the UK Teaching Excellence Awards in Birmingham, to celebrate the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence received by Oxford’s OxSTAR team. OxSTAR have had a national impact through their pioneering development of simulation-based education for medical students and healthcare professionals; their work is truly inspiring, and it was a pleasure to see it being recognised.

OxSTAR’s richly deserved award was the first of its kind that Oxford has received for many years, not because we don’t have brilliant, innovative teachers, but because we’ve not been putting people forward for consideration. With the support of the Centre for Teaching and Learning, this is now changing, and it’s my intention that going forward we will be far more proactive about celebrating excellence in teaching.

Earlier in the summer, we saw another significant teaching-related milestone. For the first time since 2016 Oxford achieved the 50% response threshold required for publication of our National Student Survey (NSS) results. Again, this provided a strong vote of confidence in our teaching, with ratings among the highest in the sector in five of the seven categories: teaching on my course; learning opportunities; assessment and feedback; academic support; and learning resources. As well as giving us insight into the student experience for our own reflections, UCAS use NSS outcomes to help inform prospective students as they consider their UK university applications.

It wasn’t all rosy. In the final two NSS categories (organisation and management, and student voice) our scores were disappointingly low. It’s also the case that, beneath the aggregate figures, there are significant subject variations across all seven categories. So, there are still important things to work on, and lessons to learn from each other, and I look forward to engaging with colleagues on these over the coming months.

Let me conclude by thanking everyone involved in teaching at Oxford. Throughout my academic career, I’ve found teaching and working with students rewarding in its own right, and I hope those in these integral roles do too. All the same, we will continue to strive to find more and better ways to recognise and reward the work that colleagues do. Watch this space!