Lesson from hard school of Knox

October 6, 1995

The concluding statement in Diana Green's articles (THES, September 15) that "perhaps the best use of management tools in this area would be to make a positive link between quality, evidence of its improvement and financial rewards" certainly rings true.

However, unresolved issues include "Who is to be rewarded (individuals, departments, institutions?)" and "What is the 'currency' for those rewards?" (personal promotions, departmental funding supplements on a one-off recurrent basis, additional funded numbers to institutions? Or what?).

I visited the University of Tennessee at Knoxville recently to examine its performance funding programme which since 1979 has provided additional funding at the margin to the state's 23 higher education institutions in return for providing evidence of improved quality in teaching and learning.

Although an annual total of $17 million is currently allocated to Tennessee's institutions under this policy there is only patchy evidence that the activity is owned by "those charged with delivering a quality educational experience at the grass-roots". There are several reasons for this including an ambivalent attitude towards high-quality teaching by some institutions and the absence of clearly defined reward mechanisms for subject areas which have successfully implemented quality enhancement measures.

In the United Kingdom context, should we promote individuals on anecdotal and unpublished statements from teaching quality assessment assessors that their classroom performance was "excellent" (the research performance of individuals can more readily be evaluated and rewarded because the product of that research is normally in the public domain)?

How can a subject area best be rewarded for achieving (say) 20 or more points out of the 24 maximum available under the Higher Education Funding Council for England's latest approach to teaching quality assessment?

The Scottish Funding Council's approach to reward "excellent" subject areas by giving them additional funded full-time equivalents to teach is a rather bitter pill to swallow.

Tennessee's experience suggests that financial gain to an institution does not itself encourage teachers to maintain an interest in high-quality teaching and learning. Internal policies and incentive mechanisms need to be agreed, publicised and implemented, offering rewards in a currency with which a department/subject areas as a whole can identify, thereby ensuring maximum possible ownership.

I suspect that, as in Tennessee, many institutions are finding it difficult to identify the appropriate mix of policies and incentive mechanisms to encourage ownership of quality assurance activity.

Malcolm Morrison

Academic registrar

Cranfield University


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