Janet Beer: ministers should not publicly criticise university teaching

University of Liverpool vice-chancellor says remarks harm UK’s global reputation

October 8, 2015
Janet Beer University of Liverpool

The UK is in danger of “shooting ourselves in both feet” when leaders criticise the quality of university teaching in public, a senior academic has claimed.

Janet Beer, vice-chancellor at the University of Liverpool, said universities need to pay “rigorous attention to the quality of what happens in our lecture halls” but it “does not do us any good reputationally when we beat ourselves up in public”.

Speaking at a conference on transnational education hosted by Universities UK and the UK Higher Education International Unit, Professor Beer said: “When our minister describes the quality of some of our lectures as ‘lamentable’, it is not a great moment for higher education.”

Last month universities minister Jo Johnson claimed in a speech at UUK’s annual conference that “lamentable teaching” is damaging the reputation of British higher education.

Professor Beer added: “There is some brilliant stuff going on at universities in this country, and indeed some very creative and inventive pedagogy in overseas contexts.

“The expectation of students is quite rightly growing. I’m not saying all teaching is good; by no means am I saying that.

“We need to pay very rigorous attention to the quality of what happens in our lecture halls, seminar rooms and tutorials, but it does not do us any good reputationally when we beat ourselves up in public, which we seem to do on a reasonably regular basis.”

Meanwhile, Troy Heffernan, professor of transnational education and international director of Plymouth Business School at Plymouth University, said that as the competition for transnational education increases, so too will the tension between profitability and quality.

“There is a real tension, I’m finding, between profitability of the operation and the quality of the operation. Quality is key,” he said.

He advised universities involved with transnational education to ensure they have a full understanding of the Quality Assurance Agency code in this area and “examine” potential international partners “at an early stage”.

“The DNA has to be right on both sides. Ask, is it of benefit to your university? Is it of benefit to their institution? And will students come? You must answer yes to all three.”


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