Critics round on academy

September 2, 2005

Academics have criticised the Higher Education Academy for failing to raise the status of teaching and learning in its plans for a framework for professional standards.

The HEA this week unveiled the final draft of the national framework for consultation.

Members of the Heads of Educational Development Group, a network of 104 academics representing universities across the sector, were disappointed that the HEA had not used the consultations to move teaching and learning support to centre stage.

Gwen van der Velden, chair of the HEDG and head of Kent University's Unit for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, said: "This was a prime opportunity to raise the issue of improving the status of teaching and learning and to recognise the efforts of teaching and learning in career development. The HEA has not done that and that's very disappointing.

"A great many colleagues are still concerned about the recognition of teaching and learning support, and would wish to see the HEA give at least as much emphasis to this as it does to improving the student experience."

She welcomed the HEA's commitment to university autonomy and the fact that it had not tried to impose a one-size-fits-all framework. But she said that academics might find the framework of levels and the translation to career stages too simplistic.

Bland Tomkinson, university adviser on pedagogic development at Manchester University, labelled the framework "banal and disappointing" and said it covered old ground.

"It's a little disappointing that this process has taken so long and has come up with so little. The HEA has a difficult job to reconcile all the different interests but I'm not sure it knows who its audience is. People were hoping for something a bit more focused.

"The status of learning and teaching is struggling because of the research assessment exercise, and the HEA had an opportunity to emphasise the importance of teaching and learning. That doesn't come through," he said.

Alan Jenkins, professor of higher education at Oxford Brookes University, said the HEA had done an excellent job in formulating the key issues and proposing a national framework building on international research and practice.

The increased emphasis on a scholarly and research-based approach to academic development was particularly welcome, he said.

But Professor Jenkins feared the framework still separated teaching and research and did not seek or develop ways to bring them together. The framework was discussed with pro vice-chancellors for teaching but not those for research.

"That is a sadly significant omission. Their support is needed to ensure that (discipline-based) pedagogic research is effectively supported and funded by institutions," Professor Jenkins said.

"Unless the RAE is dealt with this will have no impact. Despite the rhetoric about continuing professional development, I fear that this framework and the emphasis on institutional responsibility may in effect encourage institutional irresponsibility.

"Initial courses on teaching for many staff - but little or no continuing professional development - are ignoring the needs of the large part-time army that now does much of the teaching," he added.

The problem lay with the Government and the Higher Education Funding Council for England's preoccupation with high-level discovery research, as reflected in the way it funded the sector, he said.

"This framework is set out as if this external environment is supportive.

It isn't. I think the HEA should be making that argument, and making it in this document," Professor Jenkins said.

Peter Hartley, professor of education development at Bradford University, said the academy, which took up where the now-defunct Institute for Learning and Teaching left off, had so far failed to deliver.

He said: "There's a feeling that the HEA is not providing a powerful lead on this.

"The ILT was proactive in terms of banging the drum to make teaching and learning more central to university life. The HEA hasn't done that yet."

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