RAE factory or glorified job shop? 1

November 2, 2006

Reading Paul Ramsden's letter (Letters, October ) I thought that a gust of autumn wind had flicked my Times Higher page from Letters to Laurie Taylor. As head of the Higher Education Academy, Ramsden is singularly ill-placed to allow rhetoric to stand in place of honest research - or even, indeed, casual observation. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, if you want to know what vice-chancellors truly believe, don't listen to what they say but observe the manner in which their institutions habitually act.

When Ramsden sees a university advertising a lecturer post - or a promotion opportunity - with a statement that "demonstrable competence in teaching will rank equally with a demonstrable record of research activity", then he will find a vice-chancellor putting "maintaining and enhancing the student learning experience" in its proper place on the institutional agenda. What such a university will use as evidence should be very much Ramsden's concern - it is the point of having the HEA.

For most universities, teaching is not at the top of their agenda, but neither, by the way, is research. Research income is at the top of the agenda - and that is a very different thing.

By the same token, while universities may use the Student Satisfaction Survey for some recruitment spin, the professionals within must apply a degree of criticality to what that survey may show. One cannot logically pass from "80 per cent of students are satisfied with their courses" to "80 per cent of courses are satisfactory in terms of teaching quality": if the students were equipped to judge that matter, it would be a sheer cheek to offer them the courses.

Andrew Morgan
Swansea

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