'Too detailed and prescriptive' teaching qualifications 'counterproductive'

February 3, 2011

Experts have raised "serious concerns" about new requirements for lecturer training.

The proposals, set out by the Higher Education Academy, are "too detailed and prescriptive" and could be counterproductive, staff in the field have warned.

Plans to revise the UK Professional Standards Framework were published by the HEA in November after the Browne Review called for teaching qualifications to be made compulsory for new academics.

The framework, which was first published in 2006, is used to accredit universities' teaching-development activities, but the HEA has admitted that many staff do not see it as "relevant" to their career progression.

Under the HEA's proposals, the updated framework says that in future, all staff on academic probation will have to complete an HEA-accredited teaching programme, such as a postgraduate certificate in higher education. Postgraduates who teach would also have to take an HEA-accredited course.

A "sector-wide profile" on the number of staff who have reached each level of the framework would be published by the HEA annually.

Meanwhile, training courses would have to meet more detailed requirements.

The revised framework stipulates that teaching observations should become "a formally required element and benchmark of teaching capability within all higher education teaching qualification programmes". Universities should introduce formal mentoring for those taking qualifications and courses should include a core module focused on the pedagogy of the relevant discipline.

But the Staff and Educational Development Association, which supports professional development for academic staff, said the proposals were "deeply disappointing".

In a letter to Times Higher Education, the organisation points out that the proposed framework is "much longer - eight pages rather than one" and says that it is "much more prescriptive" than the current document.

"A good framework respects an institution's autonomy to implement the standards in a way that meets its particular needs. The proposed version is unlikely to increase take-up," it says.

In another letter to THE, Julia Buckingham, pro-rector for education and academic affairs at Imperial College London, says that the institution is introducing a new programme of "bespoke" training for staff and warns that "a compulsory one-size-fits-all approach" seems "counterproductive".

The Association for Learning Development in Higher Education also said it had "serious concerns". In a third letter, it states that the new document could "inadvertently limit (career) progression" for staff such as librarians and technical instructors owing to its focus on academics.

A spokeswoman for the HEA said that the consultation was intended to draw out strong opinions and that the strength of responses was to be welcomed.

"Many positive responses were received," she said, adding that the framework would need to give institutions "autonomy".

"The Academy plans to work closely with the sector in reviewing the issues raised before the revised framework is published," she said.

In a speech in November, Craig Mahoney, the HEA's head, described lecturing as "almost the only profession" in which it is possible to work without a qualification or licence.


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