A fast-track membership policy and rigorous professional standards are envisaged for the new ILT, writes Alison Utley
The Institute for Learning and Teaching was opened for business last week by higher education minister Baroness Blackstone, who praised the "work and vision" of the many people who had brought the first professional body for lecturers to fruition.
She reassured delegates: "This is not a creature of the government, nor of the institutions. And it isn't for me as a minister to dictate the aims and priorities of the institute. They must be set by the institute and by the profession."
The minister then surprised no one by making a few suggestions of her own. The institute will help bring teaching the recognition and standing it deserves, she said, while stressing that recognition implied professional standards.
She warned: "Standards have not always been consistent in the past. Membership of the institute should be a sign of professional competence and good standing. There must be meaningful criteria for membership."
So what are the criteria? Rules for new recruits to academia are fairly straightforward, as most will need to successfully complete an accredited training programme, probably devised by their own institution.
But that will take time and everyone acknowledges that the ILT needs to get significant numbers of members quickly. A fast track has been devised for the first two years, allowing experienced lecturers and others working in learning support to apply for membership by writing a "short reflective statement" about their teaching accompanied by two referees.
The details are still being worked out, but some observers are asking whether such a direct approach could undermine efforts by universities to get their current staff to do in-house teacher training or staff development programmes. For it is still unclear whether universities and colleges will recognise membership of the ILT as a certificate to teach.
On the one hand the institute is a supportive membership club celebrating high standards of teaching, and on the other it is a gatekeeper issuing (or, presumably, refusing to issue) certificates to teach in higher education.
If the institute is to be the inclusive club that some wish it to be, allowing in everyone working in higher education, how will it change anything or achieve real respectability? How will it ensure equivalence of professional standards? Not easy questions - but as Baroness Blackstone predicted: students deserve it and increasingly they will demand it.
The institute is a supportive club, but membership must have meaning. So who will act as referees for would-be members?
"It could be a line manager or just a colleague you have worked with," said Caroline Bucklow, director of accreditation. "Maybe some people will think this is letting them off lightly but we must rely on people's own professional sensibilities."