Teaching set for big boost in promotions overhaul

August 3, 2007

A major HEA project will examine how excellence is recognised and rewarded. Rebecca Attwood reportsAcademics will be more likely to win promotion for good quality teaching under a new initiative from the Higher Education Academy.

The HEA is embarking on a major project to assess the systems individual universities use to reward good teaching. It will examine what works and whether more effective criteria and standards can be developed that could be made available across the sector.

Details are still being drawn up, but the first phase will have a particular focus on promotions and appointments and will also look at perceptions of the extent to which teaching is valued and rewarded in comparison with research.

The news came as Leslie Wagner used his final speech as chair of the academy's board of directors to highlight universities' "fitful" use of promotion criteria to reward outstanding teaching.

Professor Wagner, former vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, said the academy had achieved much during its first three years but had not yet fully addressed "one change that would do more than anything else" to achieve the academy's objective of enhancing the student learning experience - the recognition of teaching excellence in promotion to senior academic posts. "Many universities have promotion criteria that include teaching excellence. But the use across the sector is fitful, and the numbers of staff promoted are small," he told the academy's annual subscribers' meeting.

Promotion was a matter for institutions, he said, but he believed the academy could help disseminate best practice and "initiate a programme of work to develop a systematic approach to the use of teaching excellence as a criterion on a par with research excellence for promotion to the highest academic posts".

In an interview with The Times Higher , Professor Wagner said the problem was the "technical question of how do you do it", rather than a political issue. When it came to teaching, "people get awards and recognition, but fewer get promotion because it is difficult to find the means by which you would systematically evaluate that in a way in which you could say 'this is of equal standing to someone's research'," he said. "I don't think you want to look for absolute consistency between institutions in how they promote people, but they have to feel they have a methodology they can justify and explain if asked, and I think on research they probably do, whereas on teaching and learning it is simply not as well developed in that area."



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