Glasnost factor in peer reviews

January 23, 1998

Mantz Yorke calls for the marriage of teaching and research by establishing a separate unit of assessment in the research assessment exercise devoted to higher education (Opinion, THES, January 16). This is to be welcomed. As the introduction to the MacFarlane report (1992), Teaching and Learning in an Expanding Higher Education System, states: "The greatest challenge is to persuade a majority of those involved in higher education to see teaching as their prime activity, and as one posing intellectual challenges and offering rewards comparable to those of standard research."

I support Professor Yorke's proposal as a way of giving a higher status to pedagogic research, but I do not believe it goes far enough.

Most research into learning and teaching takes place in disciplines by staff who also undertake subject-based research. Unfortunately, as Professor Yorke notes, it is commonly believed that RAE panels do not value such work as highly as the research into the discipline.

Unless the RAE rule that staff can only be entered in one unit of assessment is changed, the establishment of a special unit of assessment would chiefly benefit only those who are prepared to focus all efforts on pedagogic research.

The funding council announced its strategy to promote learning and teaching at a Fund for Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTI) conference last November. It advocates the use of subject networks to encourage innovation and good practice. A mechanism must found in the RAE to ensure a marriage of equals. Until then it is on rocky ground.

Mike Healey

Director of HEFCE's FDTL geography discipline network Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education

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