Funding carrot to aid teaching

July 25, 1997

SOME departments and institutions are to be encouraged to opt out of the research assessment exercise in a bid to halt the "devaluation" of teaching in higher education.

The report says too many departments are being entered for the RAE when they have little prospect of receiving money from it. Those departments whose main strengths are in teaching could opt out and receive a "modest per capita allocation" of at least Pounds 500 for private research and scholarship to support teaching.

The cash for the new fund would come from money released by not supporting departments rated below 3a in the RAE, a total of Pounds 30 million in 1996. The report stresses that any department which enters and achieves a 1 or 2 rating should receive neither RAE funds nor the new per capita allowance.

A professional Institute for Learning and Teaching in higher education (Rec 14) should be created. The institute would be more focused and cost less than current "complex" and "fragmented" attempts to improve university teaching, the report says. It should be immediately established by universities' representative bodies in consultation with funding bodies.

The institute's function would be to accredit programmes of training for lecturers and confer on them associate membership, membership and fellowship in recognition of high-quality teaching. All new academics will be expected to become associate members of the institute, providing the first coherent national teacher training scheme for academics. Existing lecturers can develop their skills throughout their careers. In addition, the institute would commission research and development in learning and teaching practices and stimulate innovation through the results of that research.

Innovative teaching methods need to become widespread and the report recommends that all institutions prioritise immediately developing and implementing learning and teaching strategies to promote student learning (Rec 8).

In a survey of more than 1,200 students in their second year and above that was commissioned from the Policy Studies Institute last year, the inquiry found less than half of those who responded were satisfied with the feedback they got from staff about their work. Despite changes in the learning environment, teaching methods did not appear to have changed considerably - lectures were still the norm.

The institute would also assist universities in making the best use of information technology.

The report stresses that if the institute is to have credibility it must be adequately funded. Current funding council initiatives in teaching and learning total Pounds 40 million. The report says that this money would be better spent by the institute.

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