Teaching and research in Higher Education

The following is a short text I posted in response to “It’s time for teaching to get an equal position with research by Craig Mahoney, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Academy” http://gu.com/p/2nj54

Comments posted on the Guardian website showed that my short response echoed many colleagues’ position. I thought it might be useful to post it up again on my blog.

15 March 2011 8:26PM

I am responding in haste. I am a researcher active lecturer who is still busy providing feedback on students’ dissertations at 8pm and who is certainly not alone in this case.

The opposition research-teaching only makes sense if we abandon the idea that a university education is meant to provide access to scholarship; established scholarship and scholarship in the making.
The notion that all HE research-active lecturers should obtain a qualification is predicated on a series of misconceptions:
1- you don’t get teaching experience before taking up your first appointment
2- the qualification “makes” you an effective teacher
3- teaching fellows/non-research active lecturers are better teachers

  1. No decent research-intensive university would appoint someone without any teaching experience. I would encourage you all to peruse the CVs we analyze when we shortlist candidates. It is therefore a fallacy to assume that new lecturers are not qualified. They may not hold a specific teaching qualification (although they are educated at doctoral level) but they have more often than not a great deal of experience.
  2. The PGCHE is, frankly, a joke. It does not assess your actual performance in the classroom and the idea that it can be discriminating is frankly ludicrous. We are talking of people who have met the most exacting educational standards. Do we seriously believe they cannot take and pass yet another exam? I would suggest the Guardian team report on the experience of young lecturers who have been through this particular hoop. An introduction to pedagogical theories and pop psychology does not turn you into an effective teacher. I have experience of such programmes in both France and the UK and they simply don’t cut it.
    It does not mean that researchers don’t care about the quality of their teaching and refuse to admit they have a lot to learn throughout their career. They do. There are more effective ways to encourage best practice, such as peer-review, organized in many departments and a truly effective tool. Imposing an extra qualification is going to please the HEA and those who confuse students and consumers; it is not going to improve teaching standards.
  3. The idea that research hampers teaching and pedagogy is not borne out by anecdotal or scholarly evidence. Separating teaching and research only makes sense if you conceive HE as an extension of secondary education or as a space for vocational training. It is not.

Universities are communities of scholars. The very skills that define a good graduate, that make him employable and determine its future success are the very skills that scholars need to demonstrate in their research: critical skills, the ability to process complex information, to formulate sophisticated arguments and analysis and to present them effectively.
The moment a university lecturer stops doing research and thinking in scholarly terms, he/she loses its value for the would-be graduate. We already provide education which is not research-led; it happens in schools. It is essential and often undervalued, but we don’t need HEI to duplicate the role of secondary schools.

HE is not only meant to impart knowledge and information but is expected to teach you how to think independently and critically, to help you graduate into employability and active citizenship.
It takes a scholar to educate at degree level; the PGCHE has absolutely nothing to do with scholarship.

If we are really concerned about teaching standards, we should encourage postgraduate students to teach, support them in doing so, and not ask them to take a useless exam because we can count degrees but not measure teaching efficiency with any degree of precision.

Ok. I really have to go now. Those dissertations still need marking…

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