Do we need teaching diplomas? 1

May 6, 2005

Do students learn better when taught by academics with formal teaching qualifications than they do when taught by those without any? That is the fundamental question that needs answering in the debate over teaching academics to teach (Letters, April 29).

Universities have rushed into establishing these courses and obliging or encouraging staff to take them without any evidence to show that they work. The cost must be considerable, so it surely behoves universities, of all places, to commission proper, robust and scientific research (not educationists' unproved assumptions and wishy-washy attitude surveys) into this matter before ploughing all that lovely money into something that may be a complete waste, or even damaging. An obvious approach would be to select cadres of students, properly weighted for background and educational experience and type of institution, across a range of subjects, divide them into three - one third to be taught by the usual mix of staff, another only by those with teaching qualifications, and the final third only by those without any. After three years, their results could be compared and the answer would be somewhere along the "PGCHEs are brill" - "makes no difference" - "better without" spectrum. I'd be surprised if it was anywhere near the first, but I'm willing to heed real evidence.

Incidentally, in response to your correspondent who asks, rhetorically, whether a PhD automatically makes someone a good teacher, the answer is clearly "no", but the experience of teaching gained by most PhD students has generally proved to be a sufficient foundation. Taught courses are not the only way to acquire knowledge and skill.

Richard Austen-Baker

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