Some of Britain’s top higher education institutions have succeeded in improving their ratings for teaching quality in the wake of controversy over last year’s maiden results.

Four members of the prestigious Russell Group of research-orientated universities — Durham, Liverpool, Southampton and York — secured higher grades this year under the teaching excellence framework administered by the Office for Students, the higher education regulator in England.

The framework was introduced by ministers to increase transparency about teaching quality at universities, but the ratings last year were contentious, with fewer than half of the Russell Group achieving the top grade.

Institutions are awarded Olympic-style gold, silver or bronze ratings based on their teaching quality, learning environment and student outcomes, particularly in the job market.

A total of 40 institutions that were graded in 2017 applied for new ratings in 2018. The universities of Liverpool and Southampton, which were awarded bronze grades in 2017, both improved to silver in 2018.

The universities of Durham and York, which secured silver last year, both achieved gold in 2018. They join Oxford and Cambridge universities and Imperial College London in the top tier for teaching quality.

The fifth Russell Group institution to seek a new rating in 2018 — the University of Warwick — retained the silver it secured last year.

The teaching excellence framework is currently a voluntary ratings system. In most cases, the grade is valid for three years, meaning institutions that were rated last year mostly did not need to seek a new one in 2018 unless they believed they could improve.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, a think-tank, said he hoped the improvement in some institutions’ ratings reflected real progress.

The process around the teaching excellence framework, while flawed, was forcing institutions to think about their students’ experiences, he added.

One of the institutions whose performance in 2017 caused most controversy — the London School of Economics, which secured a bronze rating — declined to re-enter the exercise this year.

“A resubmission to the [teaching excellence framework] this year would not have fully captured the benefits of the activity taking place at the school,” said the LSE.

A total of 269 institutions have now secured ratings for their teaching quality. Of those, 73, or 27 per cent, have a gold rating. A further 134, or 50 per cent, have silver and 62, or 23 per cent, bronze.

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