Are CETLs a waste or a wonder? 1

July 20, 2007

At last, two articles in The Times Higher that start to critique the sector's misguided and wasteful infatuation with excellence ("Centres of excellence fail to transform teaching" and Alan Skelton's "Mr Brown, please balance our cultural capital", Opinion, July 13).

Skelton's article underlines the contested and essentially meaningless use of the term itself, but offers a useful way forward in proposing "different forms of excellence to emerge within different types of institution". This would require a funding mechanism radically different from the present model, and challenges the paradigm exposed in your report on Centres of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs).

For higher education teaching to be valued as much as research, CETLs need to address their negligible impact and chronic lack of dissemination across the sector. Where are the theoretical insights into excellent teaching?

As usual, higher education fails to learn from the school sector. Since 1998, advanced skills teachers have been appointed for their excellence in results, specialist knowledge, planning, teaching, assessing, and advising and supporting other teachers. It is from the last point that higher education could learn.

Twenty per cent of such teachers' time is spent in outreach work, and the latest standards talk about excellence in transferring and adapting methods from one situation to another and working with a range of colleagues in different settings. Perhaps CETLs funded for their excellence could use 20 per cent of their resources in outreach and really transform teaching.

John Butcher
Director of learning and teaching
University College Falmouth

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