ILT proposals do not address the real concerns

April 9, 1999

One thing on which everyone in higher education agrees is that form filling is out of hand. Research grant applications, quality assessments, bids for a share of this or that pot of gold are taking up more time as more money comes with more strings.

Small wonder that the Institute of Learning and Teaching's plan to require proof of competence in 24 categories from academic staff seeking membership has been met with derision and despair (page 8). Small wonder too that some people are beginning to think that opening the doors to government inspectors would be easier.

The new checklists for teaching come in addition to a still over-elaborate system for the assessment of teaching quality through the QAA. That quality assurance system has been the subject of wrangling for nearly a decade. It might have been hoped that some of the lessons of that long debate had been learnt and this time something simple would be adopted. Instead, the same errors seem to be being made again.

What is the problem to which the ILT is supposed to be the answer? Some students do not like their teachers. Some do not like the marks their teachers give them. These matters are not addressed by the 24 articles. Some academics do not teach well. They do not turn up. They do not mark work. They do not make clear what is expected from whom by when and why. The 24 articles will not prevent such failings.

These new stipulations may be useful as checklists for course content for induction courses for new entrants to the academic profession and for in-service courses offered to those wanting to upgrade their teaching, reorientate their career or increase their chances of promotion. But that does not warrant the coercive tone attending the current proposals.

The problem that is really being addressed is none of these. It is the fear that if higher education does not tie itself in these elaborate knots, government will move in with something worse. This is a bad reason and the ILT should rethink.

Three things are needed: a professional body with the power to strike off those who are seriously deficient; an institution that can commission or accredit soundly based courses for those already in the job; and user-friendly packages for induction training of new recruits. Too often, highly skilled researchers have been left to sink or swim when it comes to teaching.

If politicians think that is inadequate - and why should they if it is well done? - higher education should be prepared to fight its corner robustly.

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