Hodge admits back of envelope planning

March 14, 2003

Higher education minister Margaret Hodge publicly admitted last week that the decision to designate 70 university teaching departments as centres of excellence by 2006 had not been thought out in detail, adding that the financing had been worked out "on the back of an envelope".

She said the Higher Education Funding Council for England was working out the details but that, before publication of the white paper in January, the government had not considered relationships between the centres and the 24 subject centres that form the Learning and Teaching Support Network.

The centres of excellence will each receive £500,000 a year for five years "to reward academics and to fund extra staff to help promote and spread good pedagogical practice".

This is double the amount allocated to the university-based subject centres, founded in the wake of the Dearing report. The new centres will also be able to bid for £2 million extra in capital funding.

The white paper says the centres would be identified by a process of peer review managed by Hefce. However, none of the agencies concerned with teaching enhancement and dissemination of good practice, principally the LTSN and the Institute for Learning and Teaching, knows how they would be affected by introduction of the centres.

Ms Hodge, addressing the support network's annual conference in Coventry, paid tribute to the LTSN, saying it had made a big difference to improving teaching.

"We believe the LTSN will play an important part in delivering the teaching and learning part of the widening participation agenda by the new Teaching Academy," she said. The academy, formed from the LTSN, the ILT(HE) and the Higher Education Staff Development Agency, is expected to launch next year after consultation.

Margaret Sills, of the health sciences and practice subject centre, queried the logic behind the minister's view that the new centres would share and spread best practice.

"Departments that are competing for students may not be willing to share," she said. A central, independent body was better placed to spread and distribute teaching and learning resources, she told the minister.

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