Teaching fellowships do not benefit anyone

June 30, 2011

I suspect I'm not alone in noticing the recent proliferation of "teaching fellowships" in UK higher education, but who do they benefit?

They appear to offer an opportunity for those recently graduating from their PhDs, but in reality they are a means by which universities employ full-time teachers without having to pay them to conduct research.

This is why I believe they are a blight upon the academic community. University teaching should always be led by those who are most passionate and knowledgeable about a field. To employ anyone else is to degrade academia.

I implore recent graduates (and any other academics) to eschew teaching fellowships. In the long run, no one gains. Students are taught by those who are refused the opportunity to be truly passionate about their fields; universities employ those who resent their obligation to teach at the expense of everything else; and recent graduates are coaxed into accepting positions that will hamper, rather than enhance, their opportunities of future employment within higher education.

Full-time lecturers are employed on the basis of their research experience, rather than because of their lecturing ability. This is something that recent postgraduates should be very aware of.

I believe that for a recent graduate it is better to remain unemployed and conduct research than to accept a teaching fellowship if their ambition is to forge an academic career. This is the only way that institutions will come to realise that if they offer positions that fail to enthuse the best, students will be taught by those who wish to teach rather than by those who love their subject. This can never be a positive development.

I implore recent postgraduates to ignore any teaching fellowships - they won't help you, nor will they benefit academia in general.

David Richards, Liverpool John Moores University

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Reader's comments (1)

David, this post is a little old now. However, I think you open up the obvious critique of your overall position in the details of its justification. It is very obvious that "Full-time lecturers are employed on the basis of their research experience, rather than because of their lecturing ability", although I would offer an alternative conclusion: that this is something undergraduates and the parents "should be very aware of" and hihly concerned about. Lecturers might be excellent researchers and excellent teachers (both functions are about knowledge creation, just at different scales if you will). However, after summarizing the available empirical pedagogical research, the HEA finds little or no evidence that a research function enhances teaching and learning, and moreover, engagement in research most likely undermines the teaching function. The reasons should be obvious to anyone who understands the realities of how universities work. For this reason, I argue Teaching Fellows must, and indeed will inevitably be, an essential component of the most effective research-led-teaching and learning teams at the most effective and progressive universities. However, this will only happen when Teaching Fellows are valued (paid, promoted etc...) and recruited according to the appropriate potential of this role: to provide core teaching according to in-depth knowledge of both the latest disciplinary (scholarship) and pedagogical theory/practices (teaching), while supporting staff with research functions to best convert this knowledge into active and learning focused teaching methodologies. Research Fellows are not questioned about their lack of opportunity to teach frontier knowledge to fee paying students. Specialized Teaching Fellows, valued for their specific skills have long been part of technical subjects (engineering, accountancy etc), and it is essential that the humanities and social sciences quickly realize the equal potential within their own disciplines.

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