Dismantle the tower of 'edu-babble'

March 22, 2012

I am not at all surprised by the poor notices for the Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, which to me highlight the fact that the Higher Education Academy is probably unfit for purpose ("Cetls' impact assessed: the sector hardly felt a thing"; "A poor policy poorly managed leaves little to show for £315 million", 15 March).

The management of learning and teaching in higher education has been taken over by the "edu-babblers" who hide behind jargon and whose research appears to be based on stating the obvious.

The HEA has failed to convince universities to put learning and teaching on an equal footing with research, but has encouraged them to develop such things as overly complex and virtually pointless "learning-outcome matrices" for every module taught.

There is a creeping sickness infecting universities: its symptoms include tutors being forced to explain what they are doing in language that administrators, with their need for ticked boxes and neat and regular forms, can understand. This malaise is in danger of creating an homogeneous higher education experience, forcing teaching academics to be reliable, adequate and bland rather than passionate, inspiring and eccentric.

New academics are immediately alienated from teaching by enforced participation in postgraduate certificates in higher education, where they are patronised by sessions such as sourcing images from Google or giving presentations using PowerPoint. They quickly realise that using the terms "pedagogy" (rather than teaching) and "learners" (rather than students) will get them a pass.

Paul Ramsden is right: the HEA and the university "edu-babblers" need to refocus on giving academics useful skills that get results, by funding hard-nosed scientific research to demonstrate that if you do x with students, you may get y results.

Magnus Johnson, Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Hull

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