'Implicit contempt' for teachers

December 12, 1997

I HAVE a job. I live in the real world. I work in a university. Suggestions that I or my colleagues employed in universities do not have a real job are insulting. Mary Lord is right to say that her "big thinking" vision would not be welcomed by many in higher education, not for the reasons she enunciates but because her vision is based on an ill-informed view, probably because it is out of date.

She suggests that we are producing graduates that industry and the economy say are not good enough. Where is her evidence? The evidence I see is that business recruits graduates because they contribute to competitiveness.

Employers have a larger pool of graduates to pick from because university and college staff have been at the forefront in widening access to higher education, and we agree with Lord's vision of widening access yet further - provided it is properly funded, quality is maintained, and staff also benefit by being paid the rate for the job. Despite the real participation rate in higher education (nearly 40 per cent in Scotland, and about 38 per cent in Northern Ireland) Lord still refers to universities being accessible to the "elite".

Higher education staff are properly prepared for their work. The Association of University Teachers has been instrumental in developing accreditation for higher education professionals. Academic staff face a three-year probation prior to confirmation of their post. How many people in jobs in the "real world" have a similar rigorous and lengthy testing ground?

Higher education is developing a credit accumulation and transfer system, work experience for students, key skills in literacy and numeracy. If Lord wants to know what really happens in universities, for both staff and students, I would be happy to meet her and show her what life in the real world is like in higher education -temporary jobs, low pay, high student:staff ratios, poor levels of equipment for science courses, job losses, inadequate funding. Need I say more? It is only thanks to the dedication and commitment of staff in higher education that we have a quality system at all.

Penny Holloway, President, Association of University Teachers

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