Free up training, academy urges

August 26, 2005

Universities should have the freedom to determine their own professional development programmes for staff, the Higher Education Academy said this week.

The HEA is to launch the final round of consultation on its national framework for professional standards on August 29.

The framework will allow institutions to create continuing professional development (CPD) programmes that meet the needs of staff within their individual context and disciplines rather than having a one-size-fits-all framework imposed by government agencies.

Victoria Eaton, the HEA's director of registration and accreditation, said:

"It allows institutions to retain the autonomy and flexibility they have always had while still having the sense of an agreed national framework.

"For individuals, it will mean that institutions can support their development in engaging with the student learning experience."

The idea for a standards framework stems from the 2003 Higher Education White Paper, but it is based on the academy's existing programme of accreditation.

Paul Ramsden, HEA's chief executive, said: "The standards should reflect what's already happening in these institutions and we also wanted it to inform continuing professional practice and development."

Professor Ramsden said that the framework reflected academic values and priorities such as the idea of self-determination.

"Institutions are grown-up organisations that don't need further regulation," he said.

"We don't have the power to make it compulsory. We have focused on trying to provide a convenient structure for staff who support teaching and learning. It will happen because most universities and colleges want to make sure their students have excellent learning experiences."

It also embedded the relationship between research and scholarship into teaching, Professor Ramsden said.

The framework will apply to new academics, people in post and non-academic staff and is flexible enough to cover institutions' CPD arrangements and will adapt to fit everyone in academia, including non-academic staff.

Professor Ramsden said the HEA advocated a three-stage model focusing on the student experience and reflecting what the sector knows about how academics in higher education develop as teachers.

"People start off focusing on their own performance, then people do programmes and learn how to teach in higher education and start relating it to students and considering their audiences. The third stage is helping colleagues through mentoring and leadership. Each stage incorporates the previous ones," he said.

But Lewis Elton, professor of higher education at University College London and Manchester University, said: "The belief in the three-stage process is not more than a hope, because these stages don't exist at the moment. Most people think that once they have gone through the first stage, then that's all they need to do. CPD barely exists."

The HEA wants professional standards in teaching and learning to be applied to all accredited courses that institutions are offering.

Ms Eaton said: "Our earlier consultations and development work found the sector is incredibly proud of all the accredited courses it has."

She added that the academy had worked with the higher education community to develop the idea of a standard framework not based on competence or ticking boxes but professional development and experience.

"Institutions can work with existing strategies to embed the standards framework into their policies and strategies," Ms Eaton said.

"The academy is not creating a burden for institutions or individuals but a tool to promote reward and recognition for supporting student learning.

Most insitutions are asking the academy to work with them and help them in this area."

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