Fears of a pedagogic crisis as £315 million quality fund dries up

Academics warn that the legacy of the Cetl initiative may be lost. Rebecca Attwood reports

May 27, 2010

Universities have been warned that they are facing a "pedagogic crisis" as the UK's largest-ever investment in teaching and learning dries up.

Academics at the final conference of the Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (Cetls) initiative warned that the legacy of the £315 million scheme risked being lost.

There were calls for new financial incentives to reward good teaching and for universities to be forced to prove they are promoting academics on the basis of their teaching records.

In a Times Higher Education survey of the 54 universities with Cetls in England, only 11 could give details of future Cetl income. A total of 32 universities say that their centres' work and/or staff had been "embedded" in their institutions, or that activities run by their Cetls would continue.

Eleven institutions say that negotiations are ongoing, or refused to give details.

The centres, first announced in 2003, were encouraged to become financially self-sufficient after funding expired this year, but only three universities say they have fully achieved this aim.

Speaking at a debate on the future of the initiative at the Higher Education Academy Cetl conference in Sheffield last week, Sean Walton, lecturer in higher education practice at the University of Bradford, said that if the centres were absorbed into their host institutions, they would no longer have the freedom to innovate.

He said there was a "pedagogic crisis in higher education", arguing that this meant the sector needed Cetls now more than ever.

"Teaching in higher education has been undervalued for years and is perceived as a second-class profession," he said. "There are indications that the quality of teaching in higher education has actually fallen, not risen, in the past five years."

He said the work of the initiative needed to be "refreshed and redirected", with Cetls "given power to affect the policies of the institutions where they are hosted".

Anna Newell, artistic director of the creative and performing arts Cetl at Queen's University Belfast, said the centres had transformed the experience of students by creating space to "invent, imagine and innovate".

"In a rapidly changing world ... I believe that new thinking and creative thinking are needed more than ever before," she said.

Annette Cashmore, director of the genetics Cetl at the University of Leicester - one of the few centres that is set to expand - said that universities needed to be given clear incentives to reward good teaching.

"Teaching funding relates to quantity not quality and I think that needs to change," she said.

However, she added that this was a "very bold" option. An alternative would be for the Quality Assurance Agency to check that universities were rewarding staff for good teaching as part of their institutional audits, she said.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

NEXT TIME, GIVE US MORE SUPPORT

Delegates were asked what advice they would give to funding chiefs if they were to start the Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning initiative afresh. Here are some of their responses:

- "Hefce needs to find a way to make institutions accountable - not just to take the money and run!"

- "Support from the outset towards developing the legacy of Cetls, given such huge investment."

- "Five years is not enough - things just started to take off."

- "It was important to give us autonomy, but we needed more support at times ... to capture the learning that was emerging from the initiative as a whole."

- "Create a new funding council for teaching and learning".

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