'Scholarship has been subject to an elaborate system of rewards'

January 5, 2007

Gill Nicholls, new pro vice-chancellor of Durham University, praises the professionalisation of teaching

Society is losing track of what academics should be doing and what students are entitled to, according to the new pro vice-chancellor of Durham University. Gill Nicholls, who takes up the post this week after moving from King's College London, believes that students are entitled to the best education wherever and whatever they study.

But in her book, The Challenge of Scholarship , Professor Nicholls argues that teaching and learning have been "pushed and pulled" by changes in higher education policy. "In an ideal world, academic scholarship would not need to be defined or encouraged. It would arise naturally from the intellectual curiosity and energy of the academic community," she argues.

"But in the real world, scholarship has been subject to an elaborate system of rewards and punishments created by the higher education community."

Professor Nicholls, who was director of the King's Institute of Learning and Teaching, graduated in physics from Sussex University. She moved from science research to science education, taking a PhD in physics and education.

One of her key research areas is professional development in education, and she has been an external consultant on learning and teaching in institutional reviews at Southampton University and the London School of Economics.

She praises initiatives to professionalise teaching and learning by giving it greater status and funding. She believes there should be a strong link between research and teaching and learning. "When you're passionate about your subject, it doesn't mean you're a natural-born teacher."

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