Courses to improve teaching 'not being taken seriously'

The UK should look at the way other countries are “professionalising” teaching in higher education, mindful of the fact that "not everyone takes [existing] courses seriously".

June 13, 2011

That is the view of Craig Mahoney, chief executive of the Higher Education Academy, who discussed ways to improve “teaching excellence” in a lecture at the University of Bournemouth today.

Professor Mahoney said that "people who are teaching students need to be properly prepared, just as nurses and engineers, airline pilots and psychologists need to be qualified before they can practise.

"I do not understand why it should be different from other professions.

"The people I have met during my academic career who have undertaken a qualification to teach in higher education have almost always been better teachers."

Professor Mahoney said that while many universities offer postgraduate certificates in higher education for new staff, “there is evidence that not everyone takes the courses seriously, or benefits from them”.

One of the reasons that this matters, he said, is that international students – who are a vital source of income for universities – have concerns about teaching quality in the UK.

He cited data from the Teaching International Students project, being run by the HEA and the UK Council for International Student Affairs, which suggests that the satisfaction rates among UK students are consistently higher than among those from other countries.

"This means we are short-changing overseas students,” he said, a group that now accounts for around one in five of all students on UK campuses.

Discussing attempts to improve teaching quality in other countries, Professor Mahoney highlighted a project being run by the National Science Foundation in the US, which requires every scientist who submits a proposal to address the "broader impact" of their work, including “how the researcher will promote teaching, training and learning”.

"This has helped to dispel the view that teaching is in conflict with research," he said.

"Scientists, in some cases, began to embrace teaching as necessary for their career success, as well as being enjoyable and rewarding."

Professor Mahoney concluded by noting that a recent consultation, carried out as part of a review of the UK Profession Standards Framework, had "found broad general support for the principle that those who teach in higher education should be appropriately qualified". "What is ripe for debate," he said, "is how this might operate in practice."

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