HE fails to look inwards

July 28, 2000

University education departments concentrate so much on schools that they virtually ignore higher education as an area for research, according to Stephen Rowland, director of the Higher Education Research Centre at Sheffield University.

Professor Rowland, who is about to take up a new kind of chair at University College London, believes the new position will make the professional development of lecturers central to academic concerns.

"The vast majority of university education departments are so focused on schools that they have failed to meet the challenges of higher education," Professor Rowland said.

"Staff in education departments typically have a background in educational theory and practices outside higher education, but they are unlikely to know much about what goes on across their institution."

He said it was peculiar that the training of professional groups, such as social workers, lawyers, doctors, architects and school teachers, was the business of academics and was recognised as intellectually demanding.

"On the other hand, judging by the structures that support the training of lecturers, it is not considered to be an academic business to require an intellectual involvement of the same order as these other professional groups," Professor Rowland said.

Part of the problem, he said, stemmed from a reluctance to create "consumers" who were also university lecturers. "While we all have staff development units now, these are not academic departments. So in most universities, the development of educational practice in higher education is not seen to be an academic, theoretical or intellectual pursuit," Professor Rowland said.

His solution is to redraw the boundaries between educational and support units in ways that reflect the greater academic significance attached to teaching. But such a strategy could be "fraught with problems", he said.

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