COMPULSORY licences for lecturers, enabling them to teach in higher education, have been dropped following fierce opposition from elite universities.
The new Institute of Learning and Teaching decided at its meeting in London this week that it would be "inappropriate" to oblige academics to become signed-up members.
Roger King, vice-chancellor of Lincolnshire and Humberside University and chair of the institute's planning group, said: "The institute has got to justify itself and we are now agreed we are not looking to issue a licence to practice. The institute is not in a statutory position to make membership a mandatory requirement."
Consultations revealed that while new recruits to academia were open to training in teaching skills, established members of the profession resisted the idea.
Some universities complained that the licence to practise was a threat to their academic freedom to appoint their own staff. The consultations attracted a 98 per cent response and, while there was much support for the idea of the institute, the licence idea was a sticking point.
A number of other key decisions have now been taken to ensure that operations will begin on schedule in the autumn. The institute is devising a framework of accreditation, as recommended by the Dearing committee on higher education, to set out national standards for teaching in higher education.
Earlier proposals have been much simplified after consultations indicated that the model was too complex. There are unlikely to be more than two categories - membership and associate membership - although a further honorary position may be on offer later for distinguished members.
Professor King said lecturers will be encouraged to gain membership of the institute, which will operate as an independent professional body with charitable status. Their motive would be enhanced status and possibly improved promotion prospects.
The chief executive has yet to be appointed but Professor King said there would be a governing council made up mostly of practising academic teachers. Other governors were also likely to be appointed from the National Union of Students and there would be some employer representation.
The majority of income will come from individual subscriptions to the institute which will devise a range of membership services. Membership is likely to cost in the region of Pounds 50 per year. A research and development arm will also be established providing additional income.
Further cash, understood to be about Pounds 1 million over the first three years, will have to be gathered from sources such as the funding councils, government and universities.
Pilot studies are being conducted in six universities around the country chosen for their diversity to assess how easily the new accreditation framework can be mapped on to the staff development already on offer at many universities.
Ivor Crewe, vice-chancellor of Essex University, led opposition to the licence because he believes that universities' senates and councils in effect confer the licence when appointing a lecturer.
"If the institute had that right it would be taking a very important power away from universities," he said.