VICE-CHANCELLORS have criticised English funding council plans to reward excellence in teaching, arguing that money is also needed to help departments improve their teaching.
Heated discussions at the Higher Education Funding Council for England annual conference in Coventry last week highlighted opposition to the plans from universities as diverse as Huddersfield and Cambridge.
A funding council paper suggested including a teaching quality premium in core funds to reward institutions with high teaching quality assessment scores.
But delegates also wanted investment to raise teaching potential in institutions starting from a lower base or with many students with poor academic qualifications.
In general they found it more acceptable to direct extra money for teaching excellence through bids from institutions rather than by a premium to core funds.
Brian Roper, vice-chancellor of the University of North London, called for a "value-added" component of teaching funding in recognition of the extra costs involved in being more access-orientated.
John Tarrant, vice-chancellor and principal at the University of Huddersfield, said: "It is a very questionable assumption that we should go about rewarding quality teaching. We should certainly reward enhancement."
But Janet Trotter, principal of Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, among those who recognised the need for some link between funding and excellence, also said: "I would expect, under value-for-money terms, investment should go to higher quality."
HEFCE chief executive Brian Fender said student progress was difficult to measure but that the funding council was already discussing whether to include recognition of institutions' access records in the funding formula.
He said advice from the government was that they should reward excellence in teaching but that he was quite prepared to ignore it if institutions had better ideas.
He told delegates: "I'm starting on the premise that we do tend to find some money to encourage people who are making a special contribution to teaching. How and whom we reward is for you."
The funding council is believed to be unhappy about the government's linking any premium payment for teaching quality with the issue of Oxbridge college fees.
Announcing the fees decision last month, education secretary David Blunkett told HEFCE to ensure that awarding teaching excellence would benefit Oxbridge. But HEFCE believes this could tie its hands in deciding the best way for the new premium to operate.