The Association of University Teachers is calling for universities to follow the example of professions such as accountancy, law and architecture by introducing formal and compulsory accredited qualifications for academics.
In a paper issued today, the AUT executive argues that good university teaching is a matter of "pot luck". It says the traditional assumption that new entrants to academia will know how to teach can no longer be sustained, particularly as students are less likely to tolerate bad teaching.
"It has never been very clear on what basis this assumption rests; no evidence of teaching ability is required to enter the profession and until very recently little systematic assistance has been provided to help new university teachers develop teaching skills," the paper says. "From the student's point of view exposure to good or bad teaching has been largely a matter of pot luck. The continuation of this situation is no longer possible."
The case for professional accreditation was strengthened by the new mixture of teaching cultures which had emerged since the end of the binary divide. "There are growing and extensive pressures to adapt to the new educational world in which our members work and these pressures have been given additional force by the creation of the funding councils teaching quality assessment systems."
An AUT spokeswoman said the profession could either ignore these pressures or view the new climate as positive and seek to influence any new structures before they were imposed from outside.
The paper says that the changes affecting universities and their students pointed to the need for training and development in a range of teaching techniques. It also advocates the establishment of reliable standards of teaching competence for all lecturing staff.
The AUT said that accreditation would help to assure standards in the profession and enhance quality. The arguments against included fears about the necessity of compulsory entry qualifications and the danger of strengthening the existing trend of separating teaching and research.
The paper stresses that any accreditation programme must not treat teaching in isolation from research.