Teaching quality in engineering ‘needs better measures’

The Royal Academy of Engineering has added its voice to calls for new metrics to be used in universities to assess teaching quality.

April 5, 2015

The recommendation comes after a survey revealed a significant mismatch in the perception of the importance of teaching between engineering academics and university managers.

Good teachers may be being marginalised in academia compared with those who are good at research thanks in part to an ingrained university culture that prioritises research, the RAE report suggests.

The report, Does teaching advance your academic career?, reveals the results of a survey of more than 600 academics and university managers.

Almost three-quarters of academics think that lecturing skills are not an important factor in promotion decisions. However, more than three-quarters of senior university managers, heads of departments and deans said teaching excellence was very or somewhat important for promotion.

This mismatch may affect the quality of teaching available to students, says the report.

Rhys Morgan, director of engineering and education at the RAE, said that it conducted the survey because it felt that “high quality teaching and promotions for people who are interested in teaching have been marginalised compared to research promotions”.

A number of factors may have led to the negative perceptions about teaching among academics such as the “overwhelming emphasis on research reputation” and the way that funding is allocated to universities, says the report.

The RAE recommends that the transparency of promotion decisions is improved and mechanisms for teaching achievement are presented by universities as a priority for career progression.

It also calls for a better set of measures to assess teaching quality. Dr Morgan said: “Too often universities just use student feedback as a mechanism to measure teaching quality because there is nothing else.”

He added that a research excellence framework-type system for teaching would be a “really interesting idea to explore”, but he could not say for sure whether this was required. “We need to start looking at models of ranking universities beyond the National Student Survey for quality of teaching,” he added.

holly.else@tesglobal.com

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