Protest at proposed restructure of HEA

June 15, 2007

Proposal to shrink board and 'freeze out teaching enthusiasts' prompts resignation, reports Olga Wojtas.

The Higher Education Academy, set up to improve university teaching, is being accused of betraying its roots by drastically reducing the role of ordinary lecturers in how it is run.

Proposals for a smaller council led Philip Burgess and Paul Hudson, members of the academy's governing council, to claim that the HEA was "freezing out enthusiastic advocates of teaching" who had lots of direct contact with students. Mr Burgess has now resigned in protest.

The HEA board is expected to approve the proposals at its next meeting on June 28. But Mr Burgess and Dr Hudson are urging those who share their views to write to the HEA before the meeting and demand a ballot.

Paul Ramsden, chief executive of the HEA, insisted that the move will increase the input from academic teachers.

"It's a stronger representation rather than a diminution. The board wanted this increased academic input and recommended this change, which has been approved by the council itself," he said.

Mr Burgess and Dr Hudson were both council members of the Institute of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE), one of the three bodies that merged to form the HEA three years ago. They claim the HEA is failing to comply with the ILTHE's spirit and aims.

They are particularly dismayed by proposals to replace the current 26-member council with an initial 15-member council. A minimum of four members will be elected by HEA fellows, who are academics with a significant role in teaching or enhancing the student experience, compared with 16 at present.

Currently, as well as this 16, six council members are appointed from the HEA's network of 24 subject centres, two are appointed by Universities UK and GuildHE, which represents small, specialist higher education institutions, and two are appointed by the National Union of Students.

Dr Hudson said those who had topped the poll for the original council, including himself and Mr Burgess, were strong advocates of the involvement of academics with direct contact with students. "Since then, the board has systematically whittled away the status of fellows and has paid scant regard to the views of their representatives."

Mr Burgess said: "The HEA board has shown no concern about the resources available for teaching, the financial pressures on students or the quality of degrees awarded. It has not matched the ILTHE's courage."

Dr Ramsden said resources were not part of the HEA's remit. "But we are very concerned about quality, and (we) work increasingly closely with the Quality Assurance Agency. We have a professional standards framework for teaching and supporting learning, which we put together on behalf of the sector in 2006 - the first in the world."

Dr Ramsden said the HEA was a different kind of organisation from the three that amalgamated to form it: the ILTHE, the Learning and Teaching Support Network, and the Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund's national co-ordination team. It supported not only individuals, but also worked at national and institutional level.

The HEA says that the proposed council aims to be representative of groups whose work affects students directly. As well as members elected from the fellows, there will be National Teaching Fellows, pro vice-chancellors for teaching and learning, and advisory group chairs from the subject centres.

There will also be a student representative.

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