Good teaching stifled by audit, HEA head says

July 6, 2007

A culture of audit and bureaucracy risks driving higher education teaching into "uniformity and monotony" and damaging student learning, according to the head of the body charged with improving university teaching.

Paul Ramsden, chief executive of the Higher Education Academy, told the HEA's annual conference in Harrogate this week: "If I could be granted one wish to improve UK higher education, it would be to remove completely the apparatus of control and command and 'we know what's best for you' that stifles innovation and consumes academic time in trivialities."

In an address that focused on how to "inspire tomorrow's students" he listed a number of current problems that may be stifling good teaching, including "too much assessment that counts towards degrees" and "too much focus on crude measures of achievement".

He added that he wanted to see the abolition of "the outdated system of honours degree classifications". He also warned that some students' "previous experiences at school... have instilled in students a mechanistic view of assessment that militates against curiosity and independent thinking".

Mr Ramsden said the key to providing a "stimulating and inspirational" experience for higher education students was to foster "the uncertain, the creative, the irrepressible and the uncontrollable".

"While I by and large applaud the move towards more professionalism and better quality assurance in higher education teaching and learning, it potentially leads to uniformity and monotony, and to teaching that is less a conversation than a transfer of knowledge."

Finally, he mounted an impassioned plea to ensure that teaching not be separated from research by universities and that good teaching be given proper recognition and reward.

"Our students are deprived if their teachers are not engaged in original learning," he said.

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