Lecturers scorn institute

May 22, 1998

University teachers criticised the proposed Institute of Learning and Teaching at a regional consultation last week.

The criticism follows a paper from the '94 group of universities which described the institute as a threat to academic autonomy (THES, May 15).

Chris Robson, head of the school of mathematics at Leeds University, said the institute was a contradiction in terms: "It reads like a government agency pretending to be a professional association," he said. "You can't on the one hand say the institute is responding to a government initiative and then say it is owned by the profession."

Patricia Ambrose, policy adviser at the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, acknowledged that there was "a real job to be done" in persuading academics on the ground to support the institute. "We have picked up enthusiasm at the more junior levels but the higher up you go, the less enthusiasm you encounter," she said.

Consultations were held to gauge support for the institute, which will begin operations in the autumn along lines recommended by Dearing. One of its first tasks is to devise a national accreditation scheme for training university teachers, which could form a licence to practice.

But Marie Stinson, a historian at Leeds Metropolitan University, was among many delegates who expressed fundamental objections to the blanket assumption that university teaching needed improving. "If there really is a problem with declining practice throughout higher education - which I very much doubt - then the institute is not the answer," she said. "We need to look at the time available for academics because you can't keep sustaining the myth that standards improve while the numbers of students rise and time decreases."

Comparisons with the compulsory training of school teachers were not well received. It was argued that academics think of themselves first as, say, historians or physicists, rather than as lecturers. Their motivation for joining the ILT would therefore be low.

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