Scarce cash may foil lecturer training plan

HEA demands qualifications for new teachers, but universities fear the cost. Rebecca Attwood reports

December 23, 2010

Qualifications for new university lecturers are to become compulsory at a time when institutions will struggle to find the funding to support it, universities have warned.

Following recommendations made in the Browne Review, the Higher Education Academy has published plans to make the completion of an HEA-accredited training course mandatory for all postgraduates and probationary academic staff who teach.

It also proposes publishing annual data on the number of staff who reach each level of its national training framework, the UK Professional Standards Framework.

In a speech last month, Craig Mahoney, head of the HEA, highlighted inconsistencies in training. Universities did not always ensure that probationary staff completed a postgraduate certificate in higher education, even when the institution had made this a formal requirement, he said.

Elizabeth Rouse, deputy rector (academic) at University of the Arts London, said that 94 per cent of staff at her institution had completed a postgraduate teaching qualification accredited by the HEA.

"However, it is now becoming mandatory and monitored at the very time the funding is being taken away. It is going to become harder for institutions to find the money to do this," she said.

The UK Professional Standards Framework, which was published in 2006, is used to accredit universities' teaching development activities.

But the HEA's consultation document says that for many, the framework is "not perceived as being relevant" to career development.

Sean Mackney, deputy chief executive of the HEA, said feedback showed that the framework worked well for staff in the early stages of their career but less so later on.

He said the HEA's planned revisions introduced clearer progression routes, including a new "principal fellowship" aimed at senior staff such as heads of department, pro vice-chancellors and vice-chancellors.

"We believe that information about whether staff meet the Professional Standards Framework is a good indicator of the quality of teaching a student will get," he said.

"Students deserve to be taught by excellent teachers, and this provides institutions with the framework to support and develop their staff in order to deliver that."

The consultation document, Review of the UK Professional Standards Framework for Higher Education, also says that all new academic staff should be required to undertake an induction about external examining and should be observed teaching more than once.

Teaching qualifications should also include a core module on the academic's own discipline.

Meanwhile, all staff on academic probation will have to complete an HEA-accredited teaching programme such as a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education, the document adds. Postgraduates who teach should complete an HEA-accredited course worth at least 20 credits at level seven.

Other staff with teaching responsibilities should be offered the opportunity to gain a teaching qualification.

The document invites comments on the "feasibility" of these plans given "the current economic and higher education policy climate".

Universities are also "strongly encouraged" by the HEA to review their promotion policies for staff who prove to be good teachers, and the document sets out potential criteria.

The deadline for responses is 17 January.

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