Richard Black is right to highlight the need for debate around the Green Paper (“Higher education Green Paper: have universities really neglected teaching?”, 9 November), but I am not sure that he is on solid ground in either his implicit defence of the research excellence framework or his views on the importance placed on teaching in universities.
It is hard to justify the £246 million spent on the REF. Even worse, as an exercise it has failed against almost all the objectives defined when set up. It has also led to more concentration of research funding.
Black is right that most of the effort of academics and bureaucracy in our institutions is already devoted to teaching. But I am not sure that a “whole raft of committees”, departments and dedicated staff is quite the same as giving teaching the same priority as research. I too have taught in several universities, but I can’t think of any that gave teaching the same recognition in status, promotions or resource allocation. I find it hard to imagine many universities highlighting a high ranking in the National Student Survey in the same way they flag REF successes. Equally, I’d be surprised if as many chairs or deanships are awarded for great teaching as for joint authorship of a paper in a 4-star journal.
Teaching quality is far more diffuse, harder to quantify and subject to wider cultural differences than research. The great lecturer may be poor at student support, even worse in group work, while the author of a 4-star paper is far less likely to be an inadequate scholar or researcher. None of this obviates the case for seeking solutions and internal equity in status, promotions and resource allocation. Perhaps abandoning the failed REF would be a better way forward, while spending the money saved on teaching support or even research.
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