University teachers could need a licence similar to that of medical doctors in order to practise if discussions at the first meeting of the Institute for Learning and Teaching last week come to fruition.
The institute's planning group, chaired by Humberside vice-chancellor Roger King, is devising a round of consultations with academics over coming weeks and the licence issue will get top priority.
Professor King said the question was complex as it could impinge on the freedom of universities to choose who to appoint. "It is too early to predict an outcome but this is a legitimate debate and the licence may turn out to be a long-term goal of the institute," he said.
The institute, recommended by the Dearing inquiry to raise the status of teaching in universities, will formally come into being this autumn. Vice chair of the planning group Joanna de Groot said it was seeking to elevate university teaching to be on a par with research.
"Whether institutions will be nationally kitemarked for teaching or whether individual teachers will be licensed is one of the first issues we shall be consulting on," said Dr De Groot, of the Association of University Teachers.
There would be no difficulty in persuading newcomers to academia that nationally validated criteria for teaching were needed she said. But many existing lecturers would need to be convinced that it was in their interests.
"We may be confident we are doing our job well and have confidence in our professional standards but this is about showing that commitment to the outside world, to students and to employers," Dr de Groot said.
National standards were important, but it would not be in universities' interests to attempt to standardise their teaching, Dr de Groot warned. "The boundaries around teaching well are not fixed."
The meeting agreed that the institute would set up a national accreditation scheme for training programmes for lecturers. The planning group is commissioning a feasibility study for the new institution and a director will be appointed over the summer.
* Teaching styles, page 4