Letter: Care and share v. kiss of death (1)

July 13, 2001

I welcome the attention you give the Learning and Teaching Support Network in fulfilling a role in a changing higher education quality assurance framework ("Could the ILT take over the QAA's standards work?", THES , July 6). But we are not "under the wing" of the Institute for Learning and Teaching. Although our executive is co-located with the ILT in York, we have separate management arrangements.

Our focus is to support the improvement of learning and teaching. The LTSN is largely subject based and while the Quality Assurance Agency's 42 subjects do indeed map onto the 24 subject centres, it is to enable the centres to take forward the outcomes of the QAA's processes through the transfer of good practice.

Subject centres are providing an antidote to regulation. Their agendas are being influenced by practitioners - they are seen to be about "caring and sharing" in contrast to the QAA's "naming and shaming".

The LTSN does have an important role to play in assuring quality. But it is unlikely to be in setting standards if these continue to relate so closely to regulation. To do so would be the kiss of death for any subject centre also trying to build support and development networks in subject communities.

Nevertheless, if we ever do remove the regulatory dimension, real or perceived, and focus on quality improvement with "ownership" by subject communities, the LTSN centres provide a framework for this and perhaps provide information to prospective students and employers about good teaching practices. In the meantime, we should look to "join up" an emerging and possibly coherent quality assurance framework comprising: * The QAA regulating through institutional review

* The ILT self-regulating as a body owned by the academic community, promoting standards in learning and teaching practice - surely a good measure of quality for potential students is the number of ILT members in any department

* LTSN subject centres providing support for development and enhancement of learning and teaching practice in the subjects and providing information about teaching

* The Economic and Social Research Council teaching and learning research programme

* Funding bodies' learning and teaching support strategies.

These dimensions could become the integral parts of a more rational framework focusing on quality improvement.

Cliff Allan
Programme director, LTSN

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