Lecturers sceptical of training institute

September 26, 1997

Universities are to be asked to comment next week on options for a national scheme to train lecturers in the art of teaching.

The Institute for Learning and Teaching proposed by Sir Ron Dearing to standardise lecturer training programmes has received mixed reaction from academics.

Areas of disagreement centre on the length and nature of training and whether new staff should have to pass a course as part of their probation. There is also the difficulty of requiring experienced lecturers to undergo training. Ultimately, teacher training for academics is likely to become compulsory.

A consultation paper will be circulated after a meeting this week of the accreditation planning group.

Paul Cottrell of the Association of University Teachers said there was still much scepticism about the institute as university chiefs and lecturers were defensive because of "the old-fashioned idea" that university teaching is about knowing your subject. "If we don't get accreditation right, we will be playing right in to the hands of the Neanderthals," Mr Cottrell said. "If academics feel training is being imposed on them from the outside, they will simply refuse to participate."

Vice chancellors discussing the idea last week said they favoured a learned society model not attached to any one university, with the full involvement of academic staff. The institute is unlikely to develop its own programmes, but instead universities' own training will be kitemarked. "We do not want to see a large bureaucracy being created and it is very important that standards are set by the profession itself, not by the Quality Assurance Agency," said the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals.

Dearing recommended the institute have three functions: to approve schemes for training lecturers; to commission research and development in teaching and learning; and to develop IT teaching packages.

Gus Pennington, acting director of the Universities and Colleges Staff Development Agency, liked the learned society model. "The institute needs to come up with a national framework flexible enough to acknowledge the diversity in the university system," he said.

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