Professor says teaching focus blocked career

August 10, 2007

'Outstanding scholar' blames emphasis on RAE for bar to promotion. Rebecca Attwood reports

An academic who has dedicated his career to improving teaching practice has spoken out about his failed efforts to secure promotion, in the hope it will help others who choose to follow the same route.

Alan Jenkins, an internationally known expert on the relationship between teaching and research now retired from Oxford Brookes University, has revealed details of a doomed three-year battle to earn a high-level professorship for his work.

Documents obtained by Professor Jenkins under the Freedom of Information Act and passed to The Times Higher show that three out of the four references seen by Oxford Brookes' Professorial Conferment Committee describe him as a scholar of international repute and recommend him for promotion.

One explicitly, and another implicitly, says he should be considered for the highest professorial level. The only referee not to recommend him for promotion admits being unfamiliar with Professor Jenkins's work. The professor was given no say in the choice of referees. Despite these references, interventions by his trade union and a formal grievance procedure, the university refused to promote Professor Jenkins.

One referee described the professor as "the leading figure nationally on research and scholarship on the relationship between teaching and research", who has produced "seminal" work, published in "prestigious international peer reviewed journals" and is also "internationally known" for his earlier work in geography.

Another said he was an "outstanding scholar who has had considerable influence and impact on fellow professionals and on policy in this country" and "undoubtedly at the very top of his area".

Professor Jenkins was responsible for getting Oxford Brookes into a £3.3million partnership with Warwick University to set up a Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning and has been consulted by the Government's Higher Education Research Forum. He lobbied the Government to move away from the creation of "teaching only" universities. He was the author of three publications from the Higher Education Academy and was the first recipient of the Royal Geographical Society's Taylor Francis Award for promoting teaching and learning of geography in higher education.

But the university, which claims to have criteria that "provide for parity of esteem between teaching and teaching-related leadership and disciplinary research", said that Professor Jenkins's application, first made in 2003, showed "insufficient evidence of genuine leadership" in the pedagogy of teaching, with many of his publications appearing in "non-peer-referred journals". He was told that his role in the CETL, which brought Pounds 1.8million to Oxford Brookes, was unlikely to change the committee's approach.

Professor Jenkins believes there is a "glass ceiling" for those who focus on the leadership or scholarship of teaching and pedagogic research. He told The Times Higher : "Clearly this is but one case. The central problems lie in national research policies only valuing a very narrow emphasis on research assessment exercise-focused publications. Many of my publications are non-RAE focused but are directed to changing practice and policy. Only system-wide changes will result in institutional promotions that support the national need for effective teaching."

Dr Petra Wend, deputy vice-chancellor (academic) of Oxford Brookes, said she could not comment on individual cases. But she said Oxford Brooks had a "transparent" promotions process, and teaching and pedagogic research was certainly a valid pathway to promotion. References were one element of the decision-making process. Other factors included published material, places on international bodies and the results of mock RAE exercises, she added.

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