Doubts over lure of academy

November 14, 2003

Doubts are emerging over the new higher education academy's ability to attract members without compulsion or significant reward.

Liz Allen, a national official at lecturers' union Natfhe and a member of the Institute of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education council, said the academy would have a tough time getting lecturers and vice-chancellors on board given the marked lack of enthusiasm among lecturers to join the soon-to-be-defunct ILTHE.

She said: "The real test will be whether the academy manages to re-engage academics. There was a lot of debate even in the ILTHE about whether to join, and many academics see the ILTHE as unsuccessful."

Only paid-up members of "good standing" with the ILTHE will transfer automatically to the higher education academy at its launch in June 2004.

Most other academics will have to pass accredited teacher training courses to join.

Some 5,369 of the ILTHE's 14,081 members voted last month to dissolve their organisation and join the academy. The majority ignored the ballot.

And while the Higher Education Funding Council for England is providing most of the academy's income, it has also ordered that some 10-15 per cent of income must be put up by higher education institutions.

Ms Allen said: "Hefce's proposal to make subscriptions compulsory sends a signal that institutions are not too keen to join."

The government's white paper on the future of education includes an element of compulsion and, indirectly, reward. It envisages that all new lecturers will be accredited by the academy from 2006. Accreditation may bring financial reward as universities introduce elements of performance assessment into pay determination.

This ought to encourage more people to join but supporters insist that the academy's appeal is wider, arguing that it will be a powerful voice in support of teaching in higher education.

They point to the academy's Learning and Teaching Support Network, which, with its 24 subject centres, addresses academics' disciplinary concerns and the National Coordination Team's role in overseeing teaching and research programmes.

Leslie Wagner, interim academy chair and former vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, said: "This is not a school for academics. We're creating a professional register that will give academics' teaching status in higher education.

"£5 billion a year is spent on teaching - far more than on research - and the academy is a mechanism to make that spending more effective and to improve the students' learning experience.

"I hope that institutions will recognise staff who have become 'registered practitioners' when they evaluate their performance."

Roger Brown, vice-chair of the Standing Conference of Principals, which together with Universities UK, is the legal owner of the academy, said the main pressure point for the academy would be reconciling the views of professional and disciplinary groups with government and funding-council objectives.

"A large chunk of work on white paper proposals will fall to the academy and not everyone agrees with them," he said.

WHAT EXTRA BENEFITS CAN IT OFFER?

Andrew Morgan, staff development officer at the University of Wales, Swansea, thought the real questions were who owns the academy and will it be accepted?

He said: "If the academy is seen as a government-established body it will not gain popular support. The claim that this is a Universities UK-Standing Conference of Principals venture is nonsense because universities are being required to subscribe (by the Higher Education Funding Council for England).

The root problem is that academics have three professional roles - teaching, research and administration. Teaching is just a third. Will the professional training the academy offers cover all three?

"The reality is that promotion is based on research, so what extra benefits can the academy offer?"

TEACHING CAN SIT BESIDE RESEARCH

Jocelyn Wyburd, director of Manchester University's Language Centre, hoped the academy would be a good thing for everyone.

She said: "I want more support for learning and teaching and the research-related agenda of scholarship of teaching. But the academy will need to understand that old research-based universities do not want to be distracted from research. Teaching shouldn't supplant its supremacy but sit beside it.

"If the academy brings together research and the scholarship of teaching, I hope traditional universities, like my own, will buy into it.

"It made sense to pull together the ILT and LTSN. The disciplinary base of the LTSN subject centres is important because academics identify with their discipline and the academy can provide a bridge."

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