NPC/03/10/B: Higher Education Funding Council for England, Formal Consultation on Centres of Excellence in Teaching and Learning

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Also in Consultations 2003...

by Tim Brown

Executive Summary

Please find below our responses to questions where we feel our input is of benefit. We welcome the idea of CETLs in principle, although express our concern that grants are not provided to a select group of highly funded reputable institutions. We expect CETLs to be easily accessible throughout the UK so that good practice can be actively spread and exchanged through the higher education sector. Our view of teaching excellence in the higher education white paper has been that it is focused only on undergraduate education and we would urge a proportion of CETLs to be aimed specifically at postgraduates.

Preamble

The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) is a charity with the aim to advance, in the public interest, postgraduate education in the UK. We organise meetings and conferences, publish best practice guidelines and seek to influence public policy on all aspects of postgraduate education. Our membership consists of affiliated student representative bodies from across the UK; we have one full-time officer, the General Secretary, and fourteen voluntary officers. We work closely with the National Union of Students and the lecturers unions as well as other bodies relevant to postgraduate education.

A. Do you agree with the proposed aims and objectives of the initiative?

We express our concern that there may be a concentration of funding for teaching excellence given that the first objective states to reward practice that demonstrates excellent learning outcomes for students. It would be unfortunate if CETLs were granted in most cases to wealthier institutions with better resources. This would particularly concentrate postgraduate education along with concentrated research funding we feel.

We would therefore stress that CETLs should not create tiers of higher education institutions but urge good methods of teaching excellence to be shared and expanded collaboratively in the higher education community.

B. This proposal allows an institution flexibility to identify an area of excellence that is appropriate to its institutional mission and student needs and that can cut across departmental divides. Do you agree with this approach?

We agree with the approach to flexibility although it is highly likely though that teaching excellence methods will vary between disciplines and should be arranged appropriately within the discipline structures of the institution.

C. Do you agree with how we have defined the purpose of CETL funding?

We agree in principle with the criteria set that there is scope to allow teaching and learning to expand and move on with time as students expectations change. We would, however, want to see a spread of CETLs in every region. This would ensure that access to CETLs are within easy reach, which will encourage greater expansion of teaching excellence into all parts of the UK.

We agree that the HE Academy should be more primarily responsible for maintaining good dissemination practice from individual academic teaching staff and that their linking with CETLs will help enable them to achieve this. We would promote the accessibility of CETLs in this instance for all academic staff.

G. Do you think this selection method is robust and transparent?

We agree more bids should be available to larger institutions, and encourage many collaborative bids, which will help avoid harsh competition between higher education institutions.

H. Do you agree with the proposals for evidencing excellent teaching outcomes and practice? Do the examples of evidence in Annex E help to clarify our expectations?

We agree with the need to evidence excellent teaching outcomes. Example 7 is given for postgraduate courses with collaboration between the outside world and academia. We encourage this as an example, although we would emphasise the lack of consideration in the higher education white paper for taught postgraduates. This therefore creates an impression that teaching excellence will be directed towards undergraduate education. We would encourage, therefore, that a significant proportion of the CETLs exist for the benefit of postgraduates specifically.

I. Are there further criteria that we should consider including?

We would encourage student feedback to be used as a base for evidence. This could have involvement from the student representative body/course representatives to encourage proposals that actively enhance the learning experience.

Postgraduates who teach as well as academic staff have an important role in teaching. We would therefore encourage CETLs not only to equip academic staff but those who support them in teaching. This will also help develop the experience and professional development of the postgraduate teaching assistants.

J. Do you think that the proposals for commended for excellence are a useful way of identifying excellent provision for students?

This would depend on whether CETLs become identified by students as a useful indicator. They are more likely to show merit from the student perspective if the institution was one of a select few to receive such a commendation.

M. Have you any comments on the proposed mechanisms and/or measures for support and evaluation?

We agree that student feedback plays a vital role in the evaluation of CETLs. We would also encourage the future career paths of graduates to be sought so that evidence can be gained to indicate what achievements have come from a CETL.