Research role for ILT

January 8, 1999

Stephen Rowland and his colleagues are not alone in calling for changes to the research assessment exercise to encourage research into teaching in higher education ("RAE shake-up is needed before teachers improve", THES, January 1).

In our responses to recent consultations on the RAE by the funding councils, the Staff and Educational Development Association has called for a unit of assessment for research into higher education generally and for subject panels to have members with expertise in teaching and learning in that discipline.

In the case of a separate panel for higher education, SEDA stresses this should include research that relates explicitly to policy and practice as well as that of a theoretical nature. This practical orientation should be a clear criterion for evaluating research quality in this unit of assessment. Much research on higher education has not been based in education departments, which have traditionally concentrated on compulsory education, but in staff and educational development units and in subject departments. A separate panel would recognise this difference of focus and allow research into the visibility and distinctive assessment that higher education needs.

With respect to other panels, it will be the case that some institutions may not submit an education unit of assessment or will encourage staff to publish in non-educational journals. In either case pedagogical research in a discipline should be recognised and rewarded equitably with other research in that discipline. The assessment of such research requires panel members with expertise in that area. Alternatively, people in the disciplines should be able to submit work to both their "home" discipline and the higher education unit of assessment. The panel itself should include members with expertise in research in HE teaching and learning.

SEDA is also concerned that the original remit proposed by Dearing for the Institute of Learning and Teaching to commission research into HE has been changed to a development role, focusing on existing research and practice in teaching and learning. We would strongly recommend clearly identified, and appropriately funded, champions for research into teaching and learning in HE. This may still be a possible role for the ILT.

Ranald Macdonald. SEDA co-chair, Centre for Higher Education Practice. The Open University, Milton Keynes

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