by Jeremy Hoad
The National Framework for Higher Education Teaching
The NPC supports the aim of providing training for those involved in teaching in higher education and a method by which this can be monitored and supported. However, we believe that it is crucially important that the ILT when it is initially established includes all those involved in teaching and provides a forum for the discussion, support and recognition of the importance of this work. Teaching is at the very heart of higher education. However, for too long it has been seen by many academics and institutions as a poor relation to research activity. We believe that research and teaching should not be seen as separate activities but part of a coherent approach to the provision of education.
The ILT Planning Group Report has said that:
"...a first useful function of the ILT would be to attempt to redress the balance between teaching and research by providing a national focus for teaching."
(The Institute for Learning and Teaching: Implementing the Vision, Purposes of the ILT, paragraph 5)
However, it is this embracing approach which the ILT proposals completely fail to address. The consultation paper does not acknowledge the broad range of people involved in the provision and support of teaching in higher education. The current proposals would exclude very many people from membership who contribute to teaching, either as support staff, administrators, researchers or those who are not employed as full time academic/teaching staff. It is important that the ILT is open to all these people as stakeholders in teaching in higher education.
The NPC finds it incredible that the proposals for membership make absolutely no mention of postgraduates or others teaching in the sector who do not fit in with the simplistic classification of "academic staff". Institutions are rapidly adopting more flexible approaches to teaching and a significant proportion of postgraduates will be involved in teaching at the same time as they are students. Many departments and institutions rely on postgraduates for a significant amount of teaching through seminars, tutorials, laboratory work, practical classes and demonstrating as well as, although less commonly, lecturing. More than this, the growth in the employment of postgraduates as Graduate Teaching Assistants and for other similar contract work has meant that postgraduates contribute more to the teaching carried out within higher education now than ever before. With the rapid expansion of higher education, without the equivalent expansion in either funding or staffing levels it is postgraduates who have absorbed much of the extra work involved. Nevertheless, with teaching seen as second to research for staff, postgraduates are in an even worse position being employed usually on hourly contracts without even the recognition given to them that staff involved in teaching can command. We believe that it is crucial for the ILT to address this situation and be established in such a way as to incorporate the very many postgraduates without whom many departments simply would not be able to provide the level and standard of teaching that they currently can.
The ILT Planning Group Report, identifies only two categories to be targeted for early membership:
- new / probationary academic and related staff;
- existing academic and related staff
(Membership, paragraph 29)
and also states that:
"efforts to attract young members of a profession are significantly more successful than focussing efforts on older members."
(Early Membership, paragraph 30)
We are therefore extremely disappointed that the proposals for membership are so exclusive. If the ILT is to develop a sufficient momentum and address these issues it is absolutely critical that not only current academic staff but postgraduates who teach are included in its membership. Postgraduates are the people who will form the next generation of academic staff. To exclude them from proposals seems myopic, not only for the establishment of a new organisation such as the ILT but also as major contributors to the provision of teaching in higher education. We believe that there should be a category of membership which entitles individuals to the benefits and services of the ILT without the requirement for the extensive membership application procedures associated with Full or Associate membership as outlined in the proposals. This would enable all those involved in teaching in higher education to become part of the important work of the ILT.
The proposals for Associate and Full membership of the ILT make assumptions about the position of those involved in teaching. For example the paper says:
"It is assumed that, if you are a member of the profession, you will compile your file of evidence and portfolio as an ongoing process whilst you follow an accredited programme or pathway."
(Guidelines for Applicants)
The NPC believes that all those involved in teaching in higher education should receive training and support. However, institutions do not provide this automatically for postgraduates and even where this is done the training available is usually optional. The proposals currently expect considerable support from institutions and assume that those involved in teaching are part of staff development programmes. This is simply not the case for postgraduates and we think it is unreasonable to expect institutions to incorporate postgraduates into these frameworks when many of them are not providing even the most basic of training and support to postgraduates who teach. We are therefore extremely concerned that postgraduates involved in teaching will not be able to even be considered for membership of the ILT.
The submission of portfolios and files of evidence is, understandably, to be to institutions that are accredited by the ILT. However, this needs further clarification as to how the process will work in practice. If an individual's institution is not accredited by the ILT what is the incentive for another institution to deal with an application to the ILT for someone who has no connection with that institution? Is it envisaged that institutions will charge applicants for this service? If this is the case it would be unfair to those applicants whose institutions are not accredited and act as a disincentive for individuals to seek membership of the ILT.
The proposed process for membership of the ILT is over-complicated and prescriptive. We believe that is is unreasonable to expect applicants to the ILT to compile an application which must consider such an extensive list of requirements when, certainly at this stage, membership of the ILT is entirely voluntary. This may be a valuable process and we accept that the outcomes identified are important. However, it would seem that the current proposals are framed as if membership of the ILT were mandatory. If that were to be the case then the extensive and rigorous procedures outlined might have more weight. If the ILT intends to have a category of membership where meeting such criteria is obligatory then we believe that this should be balanced by a further category which is more flexible and open to anyone who is either active in (regardless of their capacity) or interested in teaching within higher education. This would give a strong message to the higher education community that the ILT is concerned with the whole range of involvement relating to teaching and will act to support and encourage good practice and the dissemination of innovative ideas.
The Outcomes identified in the proposal are comprehensive and logically organised. However, the NPC is very disappointed to find no mention of research supervision. In our response to the ILT Initial Paper in June 1998 we specifically raised this issue. The qualities required for good research supervision are distinct from those required for other forms of teaching in higher education. We believe it is a core area of higher education teaching and must be included within the set of Outcomes and requirements for ILT membership. Although research supervision is clearly relevant to postgraduates the same skills are applicable to all levels of teaching. This is becoming increasingly important as courses are becoming more modular and it is more common for students to be required to work on longer projects, dissertations or placements all of which require good supervisory skills. Additionally poor supervision at PhD level is the most common cause of complaint reported to us by postgraduate research students and can have a devastating effect on the successful progression and completion of their work. Including supervision explicitly in the criteria for ILT membership would not only benefit students, particularly postgraduates, but also be of significant benefit to staff who are also keen to improve their skills and develop better and more profitable working relationships with their students. It used to be assumed that just because you had received a higher qualification or were a researcher that you could automatically teach. This damaging myth has comprehensively been proved to be wrong. However, too many people in higher education seem still to be under the impression that just because you have done research or been awarded a doctorate you are qualified to supervise postgraduate level work. The NPC believes that this myth also needs to be eradicated from higher education.
In the context of a voluntary scheme we have severe reservations about the practical application of these membership requirements. For the majority of those involved in teaching in higher education there are staff development programmes and assessment procedures which are part of the ongoing assessment and improvement of their work. For most staff in older universities there is a three year probation period. For those in newer universities (post-1992) and colleges there is at least one year of probation with two further years of teaching. More thought and explanation needs to be provided as to how the ILT accreditation and membership procedures will match with the existing programmes in place at most institutions.
For academic staff there is already an intense administrative workload to meet the requirements of internal appraisal, teaching quality assessment, quality assurance and the research assessment exercise. Additionally, for staff also involved in research, there are detailed grant applications, reports and monitoring processes associated with external funding. We are therefore sceptical as to the level of support and participation that can be expected from staff when faced with the prospect of rigorously meeting and evaluating their performance against 24 different criteria. It is also likely to be a major struggle for many staff to find what, by the ILT's own assessment is likely to be 40 hours a year to devote to continuing professional development for what is to be a voluntary scheme. With this amount of time expected for staff and other ILT members and the extensive involvement of institutions in this process we believe there are also significant resource implications which have not been explained so far.
The NPC believes that for any accreditation and training procedure to have merit and respect both within and outside the higher education sector it is essential that it is seen as an ongoing process. We therefore fully support the proposals for continuing professional development in some form, although we have reservations about the level of support likely to be achieved for the current proposals for the reasons outlined already. The ILT must ensure that all those involved with teaching in higher education do not rely on their initial training but prove that they are engaging with the developments in the field and incorporating innovative ideas and good practice into their teaching throughout their career. Therefore we also support the three year registration period for individual members of the ILT.
However, we feel that the ILT should avoid being prescriptive in what teaching methods should be used. The range of teaching and the methods used will differ between institutions, subjects and individuals involved in these processes. The ILT must ensure that it is sensitive to these different approaches to gain the confidence of both potential individual members and the sector. People are likely to have a negative reaction to the ILT of they feel that it is seeking to impose a model of "good teaching practice" on them. Unfortunately the NPC feels that the material put out for consultation so far is on the wrong side of this balance. More needs to be done to clarify the position of the ILT as an incorporative opportunity rather than an oppressive imposition.
Summary of Proposals
- The consultation period is extended to allow a more detailed consideration of proposals which are sensitive to the needs of all those involved in teaching provision in higher education.
- A new category of membership is created to encompass all those who are stakeholders in teaching provision and not only those who are active practitioners.
- Specific attention should be given to individuals who are not "academic staff" such as postgraduates and contract researchers.
- Supervision is included in the ILT criteria / outcomes considered for membership at Full or Associate level.
- More detailed advice needs to be given as to how the membership application procedure will work for those individuals who are involved with a number of institutions.
- Further information needs to be provided for individuals who wish to apply for membership but who must do this through an institution with which they are not connected.
- The ILT should make clear that it will include student representatives who can represent both undergraduates as recipients of teaching and postgraduates who are both recipients and providers of teaching. We recommend that there is a representative from both the National Postgraduate Committee and the National Union of Students.