MIT dean: Nobel prize would give teaching the prestige it needs

High-quality tuition must be given the same recognition as cutting-edge research, says founder of open-access learning platform

May 25, 2018
beauty contest
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Higher education leaders should create a “Nobel Prize for Teaching” to give it the “prestige” that it deserves, according to the creator of one of the world’s most successful open learning platforms.

Shigeru Miyagawa, professor of linguistics and senior associate dean for open learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Times Higher Education that a high-profile global accolade would demonstrate that teaching, and not just research, should be key to academics’ endeavours.

“If you look at how many years we spend training researchers compared with how much time is spent training teachers, it’s not good, there’s something not quite right,” said Professor Miyagawa, a co-founder of the MIT OpenCourseWare initiative, which aims to make all the university’s educational materials freely available online.

Existing government initiatives such as the UK’s teaching excellence framework were “nothing but a beauty contest” for institutions, he argued, and did little to analyse the success of graduates as a result of teaching efforts.

“We are abandoning our students,” Professor Miyagawa said. “So long as we are adequate teachers we get tenure and we get promoted. A Nobel prize will put teaching on a prestigious level.”

Professor Miyagawa was speaking after taking part in a debate at Universia 2018, a conference of higher education leaders and influencers from across the world hosted by the University of Salamanca.

In the panel session, Professor Miyagawa said that one of the biggest concerns in academia was that major companies were “taking over” from universities in leading global research. But he said that he was “not worried”, since moving research out of universities would be “like Google shooting [itself] in the foot”.

And he said that doom-mongers were forgetting the equally important role that higher education institutions played in teaching. He said: “Big companies need endless researchers – new researchers. Where are they coming from? They are coming from graduate schools all over the world. And who is going to train them? Universities.”

Professor Miyagawa’s comments followed a warning from earlier in the day by José Ángel Gurría, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, that universities were “letting modern-day students down”.

In a keynote speech, Mr Gurría said that a major review of curricula was needed to ensure that students graduated with the skills they needed for a rapidly changing job market.

“‘Upskilling’ is the new currency of the 21st century,” he said. “A high percentage of our students graduate [and] then face an employment market with very few opportunities…the results are frustration and rejection of the institutions we have set up in the past century.

“This results in [the kind of] social and political fragmentation which gives rise to Brexit and the electoral results in the US.”

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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