VICECHANCELLORS have set up a working party to thrash out a policy on the formal training of lecturers in a bid to head off compulsory licensing of academics after the Dearing inquiry reports. The introduction of a national standard of teaching in higher education is widely expected to form a key element of Sir Ron Dearing's inquiry into higher education.
Three accreditation models are now being debated. A national compulsory training programme for all lecturers is thought to be least popular among lecturers, but Sir Ron is believed to have taken a particular interest in it. The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has made it clear that it is opposed to a national scheme which would challenge institutions' autonomy.
The second model is the half-way house national accreditation model: universities devise their own courses which are then accredited by an outside agency. The CVCP came out in favour of this model last week. The AUT also supports this idea and wants a new national accreditation body to run it.
The third model suggested involves supporters of individually devised courses run by universities without outside interference. The Universities and Colleges Staff Development Agency (see box) has carried out research indicating that lecturers would support courses developed in-house.
While both the CVCP and the AUT support the idea of teaching qualifications as a required part of the probation for all new lecturers, lecturers' union Natfhe is against any form of compulsory training.
Paul Cottrel, assistant general secretary of the AUT, said: "There is no agreement on who would run a new national accreditation body. We need to set up a new body that is not controlled by any one interest group, but builds on existing expertise. Starting from scratch is the only approach which would work politically." The new body would need to lay down basic standards of performance and assessment procedures, Mr Cottrel added.
However, Ray Cowell, chair of UcoSDA, said that starting from scratch would waste expertise built up by both the Staff and Educational Development Association (see box) and UCoSDA.
"We need to weave together the various existing strands," Cowell said. "We cannot go into the sector as some kind of accreditation commissar and any new national scheme now would be in danger of losing the goodwill built up by SEDA and UCoSDA."
Roger King, chair of the CVCP's teaching and learning group, said there was strong interest in the group in a General Teaching Council for higher education that would emphasise the professional status of lecturers and register individuals.
"Either we go down the relaxed route and recognise a number of centres with a common, national qualifications framework, or we have a national, compulsory recommendation," he said. "There is some doubt about whether the relaxed model would command sufficient credibility to raise the status of teaching and learning."
David Baume, chair of SEDA, said the idea of a simple national framework within which universities could run courses which met their local needs, was a powerful model. "We must respect their autonomy," he said.
Professor Baume stressed that SEDA's work in building up a voluntary teacher accreditation scheme should be integral to any new programme. "There have been some wrinkles in our relationship with UCoSDA but it is idiotic to try and achieve national standards of teaching through competing schemes," he added.
Patricia Partington, executive director of UCoSDA, has sent a questionnaire survey to more than 1,000 academics in Scotland to discover what they want from any new training initiative.
"So far we have found they want some kind of higher education qualification programme within their own institution, not a vocational model," she said.
Professor Partington argues that national accreditation may be unnecessary since universities are well-equipped to validate their own courses.
A new learning innovation network is to be set up later this year to act as a forum for research into teaching and learning in higher education. The Society for Research into Higher Education said that the network would promote new ideas in learning innovation and additionally explore their impact on universities and students. A conference at Humberside's new Lincoln campus will launch the network on September 1.