A new framework aims to establish UK-wide criteria and ensure that academics are trained to meet them. Jessica Shepherd reports
UK academics have created the world's first guide to the standards of teaching expected in higher education.
The guide is set to have wide-ranging consequences for the sector. It urges postgraduates, lecturers and professors to use scholarship and research to underpin their teaching.
The four-page document also signals the increasingly student-focused approach to teaching being adopted by academics.
But officials have been keen to stress that universities will not be compelled to tailor their teaching courses for staff to meet the nationally agreed standards.
The guide, which is known as the National Professional Standards Framework for Teaching, has taken almost two years to produce and has involved 120 universities, colleges and other academic institutions.
It provides all academic staff with a list of teaching criteria - covering expected activities, knowhow and values - that can be adapted by universities. Individuals and institutions can tick these off to ensure that the teaching and the support they give to students meets the national standards.
Paul Ramsden, chief executive of the Higher Education Academy, the publisher of the guide, said: "These standards recognise that we already have high standards in the academic community. But we needed to describe them.
"We have walked a tightrope. There were some versions that were not clear enough and others that seemed too regulatory. We have reached a good compromise.
"This is not only a world first, but also an outstanding example of the capacity of UK higher education institutions to regulate their own affairs.
It is important that the standards have been developed and agreed by the sector itself."
The framework asks academics and others, such as university librarians, to "demonstrate an understanding of the student learning experience" through knowledge of "how students learn". It also requires academics to incorporate pedagogic research into the preparation of their lectures.
Most in the sector expect teaching courses for staff in higher education and university professional development programmes to be moulded to fit the standards laid out in the framework from now on.
Although not compelled to adapt teaching courses, universities will be able to say that their programmes meet "national professional standards" if they conform to framework requirements.
From September, all programmes accredited by the HEA will be aligned with the standards set out in the framework. At the moment, 90 per cent of institutions have at least one course accredited by the academy.
The HEA was asked to consult with the sector to develop the standards after the Government's commitment in its 2003 education White Paper that from 2006 "all new teaching staff should obtain a teaching qualification that incorporates agreed professional teaching standards".
The Department for Education and Skills said this week that it was satisfied that the framework met the expectations of the White Paper.
Most academics welcomed the document. Janet Beer, co-chair of the Network of Pro Vice-Chancellors and pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: "I am pleased with the framework, in the sense that it will allow institutions to develop quite sophisticated programmes of their own. It has taken a couple of years to do. I will be interested to see what difference it makes."
But some were more reserved. Niall Mackay, a senior maths lecturer at York University and an elected member of the academy's council, said: "Few academics will read or care about this document. They will be too busy.
"The framework does little to meet the urgent need for reform of lecturers'
training programmes, which are felt by many to be built on weak educational theory and far removed from the practicalities of teaching complex and subtle material to increasingly ill-prepared students.
"The framework may end up simply as the national educational developers'
club, devolving power to local educational developers with little collegiality or academic control."
James Wisdom, co-chair of the Staff and Educational Development Association, said: "I think there is a lot of work to be done. We need to create a culture in higher education that really values professional skills in teaching and learning. This is one step of the way."
The elements of good teaching
The framework says teaching should incorporate the following:
* Planning learning activities and/or programmes of study
* Teaching and/or supporting student learning
* Assessment and giving feedback to learners
* Building effective environments and student support
* Integrating scholarship and research with teaching
* Evaluating practice and continuing professional development