Critics spur Cambridge to take don teacher training seriously

November 12, 1999

Cambridge University dons may be forced to do some teacher training following criticism that their research too often comes first.

Cambridge's governing general board is consulting staff on plans to introduce a course of "training in academic practice" in recognition that it cannot ignore pressure from students and government for a greater commitment to high-quality teaching.

The board prefers a "formal mechanism" to ensure that newly appointed university lecturers complete a proper teacher training course.

"This could be achieved by making it a condition of appointment that satisfactory completion of the probationary period must include evidence of having completed a recognised course," the report said.

The general board accepts that Cambridge University's practices in staff professional development and teacher training rely too much on informal encouragement and individual staff's own commitment to their development.

The board report says that sabbaticals, conferences, secondments and some formal staff development courses "are limited as a means of addressing the longer-term needs of academic staff".

The university accepts that external pressures are pushing it into action. "The quality of teaching in universities has become a matter of widespread public interest," said the report.

"In recent years the sector has become more accountable for the use of its public funds. Students, too, now that they are making a more substantial contribution to the cost of their studies, have become more likely to question any perceived failure by universities."

The moves follow specific criticism of Oxbridge by education secretary David Blunkett, who once relayed an anecdote about a student being given a tutorial through a bathroom door while his tutor had a bath.

It also follows the establishment of the Institute of Learning and Teaching as a professional body for university lecturers to promote good teaching.

From October 2001, lecturers will usually have to have

completed an ILT-accredited

training course to become a member.

Cambridge hopes its new course will create a "path to membership" for its staff.

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