THE proposed Institute of Learning and Teaching, which comes into being this autumn, raises a serious threat to university autonomy, say some vice-chancellors. Divisions are appearing over the role of the institute, which aims to set a national standard for teaching in higher education.
One proposal requires lecturers to gain a licence to practise through formally accredited training. some research-led universities fear the plan is part of a growing outside interference with academic matters. Ivor Crewe, vice-chancellor of Essex University, who is responding to the proposals on behalf of the influential '94 group of universities, said the licence to practise "raises serious questions about university autonomy".
At present universities appoint whomever they wish to teaching posts and in effect the senate and council confer the licence to practise, said Professor Crewe. "If the institute had that right it would be taking a very important power away from universities," he warned. "In the end it is up to universities to decide who they employ to teach."
Roger King, vice-chancellor of Lincolnshire and Humberside University and chair of the institute's planning group, said he was listening very hard to concerns but said many were based on misunderstandings.
While the '94 group supports the principle of an independent professional body for teaching in higher education, Professor Crewe stressed the importance of recognising the different needs of teachers in research-led institutions.
For instance, he questioned whether any requirement for continuing professional updating of lecturers would include updating the knowledge base of a subject.
"We must make sure they get this right. universities must look very carefully indeed at these proposals," he said.
l Roger King explains the institute, page 5 l Russell and '94 groups criticise the original QAA proposals while the CVCP welcomes them, page 5 l David Smith on why Britain should abandon national assessments of research and teaching, page 12 l Letters, page 13