Pounds 30m prize in subject contest

July 31, 1998

UNIVERSITIES are to compete for a share of Pounds 30 million to set up centres of teaching expertise.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England is to invite bids for centres in each subject area as the major plank of a learning and teaching initiative to be announced in two weeks' time.

It will decide which institutions have been successful on the strength of the bids alone, and not on information provided through the Quality Assurance Agency's new quality assurance system.

The initiative will be conducted separately from parallel work under way by the new Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.

HEFCE's new strategy aims to recognise that good teaching in one subject may have little in common with good teaching in another.

Cliff Allan, policy principal at HEFCE, said: "We believe there is a lot of evidence to suggest many academics look first to their own discipline for good practice in teaching and learning. It is sensible therefore to develop a major infrastructure for the subjects to improve teaching."

The centres could carry out and promote research into innovations in teaching, and take responsibility for sharing expertise. They might promote particular teaching materials and technologies. Above all, they would encourage change at the subject level, said Mr Allan.

The emphasis on subject expertise, rather than generic teaching skills, is a new departure.

It is uncertain how vice-chancellors will respond to the creation of a direct link between teaching excellence and funding through a bidding process. They have been split over the merits of rewarding teaching excellence, some criticising the idea of giving more resources to those already doing a good job.

But in the QAA's consultation on its proposed system there were strong indications that institutions would not support any reward system based directly on the results of quality assessment.

Mr Allan said the selection process would not be linked to the QAA's monitoring of quality and standards. The number of subject centres and their precise role had yet to be worked out but he stressed that the idea was not to channel all the resources into Oxbridge and other top rated institutions.

Consultations will be conducted over the next three months before the plans are finalised. It was undecided, he said, on what basis selections would be made but he said tenders for centres would be invited shortly.

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