Refuse ILT's invitation to join

February 4, 2000

Don't pay Pounds 75 to the Institute for Learning and Teaching, say Tim Unwin and Richard Hodgkins.

The Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education is intended to enhance the status of teaching, improve the experience of learning and support innovation in higher education. But what evidence is there that it will achieve any of these aims?

We care passionately about the quality of our teaching and have published widely on the subject. Our fear about the ILT is that it will merely create another level

of bureaucratic interference that will do little to improve the

learning experience of students.

We are being asked to take on trust that the ILT will be able to deliver what it claims. But we are offered no evidence. We are told that if you become a member you will get all sorts of goodies, including publications, a website and research databases. How will this improve on the services offered by other professional organisations? Our subject, geography, has an outstanding journal, active web-based discussion forums and a thriving higher education study group run by our professional body.

We also have very real concerns about the institute's system of accreditation. Although accreditors were appointed after open advertisement, we know no one who admits to being one. Perhaps this is because many of our colleagues are active researchers and share our concerns about the role of the institute.

The names of accreditors will apparently be available on the ILT's website soon. Then we will be able to judge the extent to which they represent the diversity of teaching in higher education. It is good to know that they will all be trained, but may this not merely be another form of inculcation into the new orthodoxy of higher education teaching to which we will all now have to conform?

Inclusion of levels of ILT membership as a criterion by which the government measures the quality of university teaching may lead universities to pressurise academics to join. But membership of the ILT will cost Pounds 75 a year. In essence, this represents a pay cut, because academic staff may be coerced into joining the ILT simply to continue in their existing employment.

The issue of how staff are treated should not be finance-

dependent. Pay rise? Almost

certainly not, and what a cheek for asking. Pay cut? Certainly yes, it is essential to guarantee

you will do your job properly. Does that make you feel like

a valued member of a team?

If the ILT is so important, perhaps the government should foot the bill. At the moment, it looks very much like a cheap (shoddy and underhand) means of claiming that quality in university teaching is being delivered by requiring practitioners to do the associated work, and even personally generate the funds.

For the sakes of our universities' rankings in the league tables and our own prospects of professional advancement, it is likely that most academics will be "encouraged" to join the ILT. But what would happen if we simply refused to join? If there were no membership fees, there could be no institute.

Tim Unwin is professor of geography and Richard Hodgkins is lecturer in geography at Royal Holloway, University of London

Should academics boycott the Institute for Learning and Teaching?

Email us on soapbox@thes.co.uk

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