Decades of work at risk, just when we need it most

Graham Gibbs discusses the implications of cuts for UK pedagogy and teaching development

February 25, 2010

The first thing that gets cut when companies are in financial trouble is the training department - and teaching-development centres in universities all over the UK are facing "rightsizing" or other such euphemisms.

The Higher Education Academy also faces cuts - although probably no tougher than the ones faced by many institutional teaching-development centres.

Financial problems will also force "economies of scale" in teaching, meaning bigger class sizes, reductions in "close contact" with academic staff and less feedback on assignments.

As a result, there will be a need to implement different forms of teaching to avoid otherwise inevitable falls in the quality of learning.

Carrying on doing rather less of the same old thing is probably the worst possible option.

In the early 1990s, the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council financed a large-scale national project on this issue, which helped nearly 10,000 polytechnic teachers to adopt approaches other than simply trimming.

Who is going to do this job this time around? Not the HEA, it seems, and if the subject centres are cut, there will be few mechanisms to disseminate effective new practice across the sector.

There has been a lack of leadership in identifying the crucial teaching issues that require attention and in eliciting the political and financial support to tackle them.

Most funding for teaching-development posts has been "soft" money associated with a succession of uncoordinated and poorly targeted initiatives - notably the Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

When this funding dries up (very soon), most of the staff involved in improving teaching will be out of a job as institutional budgets and staffing are squeezed and the HEA shrinks.

The whole teaching-development enterprise, built up painstakingly over 30 years, is under threat at the very time it is needed most.

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