Do the maths: Cetls' contributions add up (2 of 3)

March 29, 2012

While a full account of the legacy of the Cetls is not possible in a brief letter, one important example is the large number of higher education staff who, through engagement with the centres, have become grass-roots champions for improving the quality of teaching and learning across the sector. It would be good if the former director of the Higher Education Academy made common cause with us rather than seeking to discredit our work.

Paul Ramsden's attack on the impact of the Cetl programme is, rather misleadingly, written as if he were a dispassionate observer. But in bidding for Cetl money, a number of nascent centres had approached the HEA's predecessor body to propose and write into bids close collaboration with the HEA. Under Ramsden's leadership, such collaboration was rejected.

At the kick-off event for the Cetls, the main message from Ramsden was that "the support the HEA can offer you is very limited since our budget is lower than the total Cetl budget...we will look into a scale of fees for services to you". We quickly found that prior agreements about collaboration were unlikely to be honoured.

In his article for Times Higher Education, Ramsden also claims: " 'Pedagogic research' is, in my experience, work that would only rarely be admissible for the...research excellence framework." I assume he is referring to the considerable amount of work supported by the Cetls that engaged teaching practitioners across multiple subject areas enquiring into and developing their own practice and the experience of their students. In my experience, such direct engagement in pedagogic enquiry has far more profound effects on teaching practice than any number of 4* papers published in education journals.

Rather strangely, Ramsden lays the blame for the problems of the HEA subject centres he was responsible for on the Cetls. This is ironic given that many of us would have welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with the HEA and make common cause in championing teaching and learning quality. Further, the evidence he relies on as to impact is flawed. The Higher Education Funding Council for England maintained a hands-off approach to the Cetls and only decided last-minute on an evaluation approach; it told the centres explicitly that "no one at Hefce will read your self-evaluation reports" - not a statement designed to motivate significant documentation efforts. The evaluation process was poorly resourced and designed, and relied on reports compiled while the Cetls were still active: hardly the best way to assess lasting impact.

Mark Fenton-O'Creevy, Former director, Practice-based Professional Learning Cetl, Professor of organisational behaviour, Open University Business School

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