Course burden 'hits quality'

September 16, 2005

The rapid expansion of foundation degrees is putting lecturers under so much pressure that they do not have time to keep on top of their subject knowledge, The Times Higher has been told.

Lecturers have warned that the quality of the courses they deliver may suffer as they are forced to forgo professional development and updating to deal with increasing workloads. Lecturers' union Natfhe said it was a "matter of serious concern".

Recent figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show the number of students accepted on foundation degree courses so far this year is up by more than 42 per cent on 2004, from 6,2 to 8,870.

Although this is a small proportion of the overall higher education intake, the growth is having a marked impact in further education colleges that deliver foundation degrees.

Lecturers in the so-called mixed economy colleges, which deliver both higher and further education, are complaining that they are having to work significantly beyond their contracted hours to keep up with rising administrative and teaching demands.

George Salmon, an engineering lecturer at Bradford College, said there was a "huge amount" of administration involved in developing foundation degrees while trying to comply with both further and higher education quality assurance requirements.

He said he had to work evenings and weekends to deal with the workload.

"For me, professional development has gone by the board," he said. "I do what I need to do, and that is all.

"I used to go to conferences and exhibitions to keep up to date, but now I just do not have the time. That is not viable in the long run if we are to maintain acceptable standards."

Martin Bilgrove, a computing lecturer at Havering College, said some lecturers were spending "hours and hours" developing foundation degrees.

He said: "It means they have less time to prepare lessons, do professional development, or even be in the classrooms. It also has a knock-on effect because it means colleagues have to cover for them."

Malcolm Morland, senior lecturer on a foundation degree in health and social care at Grimsby Institute, said many teaching staff were struggling to cope with trying to teach on both further education and foundation degree courses.

He asked: "How do you go from teaching on a GCSE to degree-level work? It does not allow time for appropriate academic development. People are being given the chance to teach higher education but some staff are being put in without any previous HE experience."

Keith Laker, a senior lecturer who runs a business foundation degree at Farnborough College, said: "If you are doing more courses and classes across a wider spectrum of levels... it becomes more of a burden because you have more to juggle."

Another foundation degree programme manager, who did not wish to be named, said: "Institutions are getting lecturers to multi-task and, as a result, their identity as subject specialists is under threat."

John Widdowson, principal of New College Durham, who chairs the Mixed Economy Group of colleges, said staff workloads were a "key issue" for colleges trying to develop foundation degrees.

He said: "Many are used to operating HE on a small scale, but staffing problems become more of an issue when you up the level of operation."

Dan Taubman, national education official for the college lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "We do not want to see foundation degrees becoming higher education on the cheap and, as a result, lowering the quality of student experience."

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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