With the teaching excellence framework waiting in the wings, the higher education sector’s teaching champion should be riding high.
Instead, the Higher Education Academy is contending with the loss of all of its funding council grants, which at one stage made up more than 80 per cent of its total income.
Turning the organisation into a professional body, and possibly charging individual subscription fees, could offer a renewed sense of purpose and a new revenue stream.
But the central question is whether academics could be persuaded to contribute towards the HEA, particularly when most have traditionally looked towards their disciplines for their professional identity.
To persuade people to pay, the HEA would need to offer professional development and services that individual academics felt were genuinely useful, as well as a strong sense of community that spans subject areas.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to say that the introduction of individual fees should have been considered prior to the latest round of cuts in the HEA’s activities, or even before the closure of the popular network of discipline-based teaching support centres in 2011.
The problem is that, even prior to this, some academics and institutional leaders were unconvinced about the value of the HEA.
It is the TEF that is likely to prove critical for the HEA’s fate. If the organisation can persuade the government that its fellowships and expertise should play a key part in the framework, it may find itself in a powerful position.
The HEA could choose to link in some way the holding of its fellowships to professional membership. If staff uptake of fellowships was measured in the TEF, this could prove particularly valuable.
With the carrot of increased tuition fee income on offer for universities that do well in the TEF, institutions could even be persuaded to pay individual subscriptions on behalf of their staff members. And there could potentially be a lucrative consultancy role for the HEA too, if it was seen as the go-to organisation for advice on how to improve TEF scores.
However, if the HEA wants to jump on the TEF bandwagon it will need to act fast, something it has arguably failed to do in the past.