Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents



154. The question in the e-consultation with students that received most responses—albeit not on a large number of responses—asked what students thought of the quality of teaching at university. Responses varied widely from the complimentary:

    I have to listen to many different kinds of lecturers from very different backgrounds but I find that the vast majority, while not formally trained to teach, are very good at communicating the relevant concepts. In my opinion this is simply because the better someone understands a topic, the more comprehensively and clearly they can explain it to others.

To the critical:

    university lecturers seriously need to take lessons from school teachers on how to teach. They are clever […] but they are not skilled at conveying the message. They talk to us like we are fellow professionals who understand everything.[292]

155. These two responses identify the two key issues which informed our deliberations: the knowledge of the subject and pedagogic skills of university teachers. The higher education sector is already well aware of these issues and the relationship between them. Professor Burgess, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester and Chair of the HEAR[293] Implementation Group, told us that it would "be hopeless to have a high-quality researcher who did not understand how you could transmit and communicate effectively with first year students, and that is clearly very important, but it is also very important to be taught by someone who is a leader in their particular field."[294]

Contact time

156. There was some criticism that, given the levels of tuition fees, contact time was inadequate. One student commented that the "contact time we have with staff is a problem. Lectures are often informative but there is no one-to-one time. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a sausage factory rather than surrounded by some of the foremost minds in my field. I appreciate that students get in the way of research but the whole point of university is for the lecturers to pass on their knowledge." But others—particularly it appears those studying science and students at Russell Group universities[295]—considered that contact time was satisfactory. One respondent said that "I have a decent chunk of contact time by most people's standards".[296]

Relationship between teaching and research

Funding arrangements

157. We canvassed views on the relationship between teaching and research and on the related question of the effects of changes in funding for research on teaching. HEFCE explained that it is responsible for two main streams of funding to higher education institutions: in 2008-09 £4,632 million recurrent grant for teaching and £1,460 million for research.[297] (The latter stream of resources is called the quality-related research or "QR" funding.) In addition, higher education institutions compete for research funding for projects via the research councils. These two elements of research funding—on the one hand, the QR funding distributed by HEFCE and, on the other, the Research Council funding distributed by competitive bid—are known collectively as the "dual support system" for research.

The Research Assessment Exercise

158. The main method for assessing research quality in relation to QR funding is the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which forms the basis for the selective distribution of research funds by the UK higher education funding bodies.[298] DIUS considered that the RAE had significantly improved the quality of research over the past 20 years working within the dual support system.[299] It added that the 2008 RAE results would fully inform HEFCE research funding until 2010-11 for all subjects. However, it was the Government's intention (announced in 2006) to replace the RAE with the Research Excellence Framework (REF). We consider that the Research Excellence Framework (REF) should take into account the whole range of indicators of excellence, including the broader contribution which academics make.

159. The Government said that HEFCE was now refining the details of the new REF system, in consultation with funding bodies and the higher education sector across the UK.[300] There is one issue that we should highlight and in responding to this Report we invite the Government to explain how the REF will take it into account. This is the treatment of multi-disciplinary collaborative teams between, and within, higher education institutions. We consider that the REF should ensure that sufficient weight is given to such collaborative teams and the effects of such teams are taken into account to ensure that they are encouraged and developed. This is a matter that our successor committee may wish to examine.

160. We recognise that universities have a difficult job balancing research and teaching interests and that resources provided for one purpose may be used for the other. It is important, however, that universities keep their teaching and research budgets separate and clearly identified and where one supports the other this is made explicit. We recommend that the Government require higher education institutions in receipt of funds from the taxpayer to have accounting systems in place that provide a clear audit trail of the use to which resources provided for teaching and research are put so that they can be separately and clearly identified.

The research teaching relationship

161. In its memorandum the Russell Group saw the combination of teaching and research excellence as creating an ideal learning environment. It considered that: "Now more than ever, employers want graduates who are entrepreneurial, good at problem-solving, able to handle uncertainty and who can work both independently and within a team. Russell Group universities create the optimum environment for students to develop these crucial skills by providing:

  • opportunities to engage in research processes and undertake independent projects;
  • access to leading thinkers, world-class experts in their fields as well as cutting-edge researchers;
  • high-quality libraries and facilities and a curriculum informed by world-class research; and
  • highly motivated and talented peer group to interact with."[301]

162. The 1994 Group took a similar approach. It explained that its members operated in the strong belief that there was a clear connection between excellent and innovative research and the highest quality teaching, which offered their students the opportunity to learn in a research-enriched community. It continued in its memorandum:

    Research Assessment is, and must continue to be, about supporting research excellence, wherever this is found. Excellence is primarily measured by research output, and there must be peer oversight of the assessment process. The [RAE] has enabled the UK to prove its demonstrable excellence in research in all fields of study. We have strongly supported the Government's desire to reform the RAE in order to lighten the burden on Higher Education Institutions but have emphasised that such reform must strengthen, not weaken, our ability to demonstrate the excellence of UK research. The RAE allows reliable comparisons to be made between subject units, institutions, and countries. It is essential that this aspect is preserved in the [REF] if the UK is to retain its position as a world leader in higher education research. There should be a continuing role for higher education institutions and HEFCE in the development and operation of the revised assessment and funding system and the revised assessment system should be based on a commitment from Government that the dual funding system for research will be maintained.[302]

163. In its evidence, Million+ took a different view. It considered that support for teaching had been treated less favourably than support for research. It argued that "fundamental differences between public funding streams for teaching and research" had arisen as a result of the distribution of QR funding since 2002. This had been compounded by the decision of the then Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP, to ask HEFCE to prioritise excellent research of international significance in the 5 year QR funding period (2004-05 to 2008-09). Million+ pointed out that during the same period teaching funding had had to accommodate continued growth in student numbers, and other strategic developments and that this differential funding had been reflected in subsequent grant allocations. For example, in 2006-07 the HEFCE recurrent grant for teaching rose by 5.3% but was required to fund 23,000 additional students and other initiatives whereas both research funding and capital investment increased by 8%. Similarly in 2007-08 the HEFCE recurrent grant for teaching rose by 4.4% and was required to fund an additional 25,000 students while research funding rose by 6.9%.[303]

164. The 157 Group, whose member colleges provide higher education, told us that "in further education we have a very strong culture around pedagogy".[304] Citing recent Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) reviews, the Group said that "generally reviews of HE in FE (i.e. delivered by the FE) have come out very well indeed. Because the two things we do really well are that we teach well and deliver learning well, and we support students very well."[305]

165. John Denham considered that it was important that "we recognise excellence wherever it is and that is what the RAE did". He considered that there was a:

    case for having fairly high levels of research concentration. We need to ensure that those people who are working in pockets of excellence in some universities are not isolated, are able to work with research teams in others and be properly recognised for doing so. We need to get the balance there right.[306]

The former Secretary of State also saw the RAE results as providing assistance to applicants considering to which institutions they might apply. He said that the RAE indicated to "you where you have the best concentrations of researchers in particular subjects" and that it "would also point out where you might have world class people doing research in the university round the corner that you had not thought about. The RAE also shows where excellence is."[307]

166. Professor Brown, former Vice-Chancellor of Southampton Solent, who for many years had chaired a research and teaching forum, explained that "over time research and teaching had grown apart and research had become the more prestigious activity and […] the research assessment exercise has contributed to that."[308] He said that the reform of the RAE provided an opportunity to improve the links. It seemed extraordinary to him that the various impacts that have been considered were "on the economy, on society and on public policy but not student education, yet actually that is the key impact."[309] Professor Driscoll, Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University, said that "we know now that many institutions appoint people simply to do research and cannot afford—because the stakes are so high—to let them do any teaching".[310] He considered that as a result there was a "divide taking place and staff are being appointed on teaching only contracts in Russell Group universities and in the 1994 Group universities".[311] He called for a more equitable distribution of QR funding because the last RAE had "demonstrated that all institutions throughout the sector can produce excellent research, not just within the Russell Group".[312]

167. On the relationship between teaching and research (often described as the "teaching-research nexus"), we adopted a two pronged approach: we asked students what difference it made to their experience of university having teachers who were active in research; and we sought evidence of the relationship between research and teaching from higher education institutions and from the Government.


168. The following selection of points made in oral evidence and in the e-consultation illuminates some of the key issues raised by students.

  • Coming from UCL which is heavily research-intensive […] my friends who did science subjects, a lot of the teaching actively engaged them in the research so their final year dissertations were on the research that their lecturer or teacher was doing, so they were actually engaged in discovering new approaches to science and new ideas—new sciences within that. My background is an arts background and, yes, because my lecturers and teachers were the lecturers and researchers who were at the top of their field the information we were given, the things that we were taught were at the cutting edge, they were the brand new, this has just been discovered a week ago, looking at sources in books that had not been published, that sort of thing.[313]
  • Some of my best lecturers and academic staff are those who have participated in research. Looking at the divide of just having a teaching-only university essentially, are they just going to have a standard curriculum, is it just going to be an extension of high school? What makes a university experience unique is that a lecturer can stand there and say "I have been undertaking research in this; this is how it relates to the theory"—that is what brings a lecture alive, otherwise lecturers are just reading from textbooks and that is not stimulating, stimulation is the key."[314]
  • In my third year now […] we have lab periods because we do research projects.[315]
  • I am amazed by the number of students that are considering further education, PhDs and masters. I think the reason for that is because we have got the world-class researchers in our department. Although I think teaching is a very important side of it, research has improved the teaching in the faculty.[316]
  • [From a law student] I think it's vital that they [are engaged in research.] I think it obviously changes all the time so they constantly need to be updating and constantly need to be researching, and that does happen. I see it happening.[317]
  • [I]t depends on the subjects […] I do German and there is very little point in reading […] linguistics and really deep research into the linguistics. All one really needs to learn is how to speak German.[318]
  • In my first two years we were taught by PhD students […] we actually talked to our personal tutors and asked if we could get one of the doctorate tutors changed because we thought he was a really bad teacher, but the other two doctorate tutors we have had have been amazing and they have been at the same level of quality as the full-time staff. […] This year we have had one tutor who has been involved in research and this has had a really bad impact on our teaching. It means that he has cancelled lectures because he has had to travel to other universities.[319]
  • What I have noticed just anecdotally is a particular lecturer I can think of who is very much engaged in the research, and I have found that quite often they are unable to bring that level of knowledge down to an under-graduate level to enable us to engage with it. They are so focused and I think the majority of their working week is in that research.[320]
  • [I]t is important that the people teaching are still engaged in research, so that they can keep students up to date with their topic. However, this should not be at the expense of the teaching itself. Some lecturers do seem to just be teaching so that they can get funding for their research and therefore don't enjoy the teaching aspect, resulting in uninteresting lectures. Also, classes were often cancelled when lecturers were off on research projects, sometimes without students being given much advance notice and with no work set to do whilst they were absent. There needs to be some sort of cover system at least but, where possible, the research should be done in non-contact time.[321]

169. A student from the University of Liverpool, Gemma Jerome, raised a wider point. She argued that:

    in spite of the rhetoric for the benefits of research-led teaching, like attracting world class researchers and facilitating a culture of original enquiry this does not necessarily correlate to a positive student experience. For example, we are proposing to double the tuition fees so should we not be putting more of a focus on these active consumers as we call the students. There needs to be much more focus on teaching.[322] […]

    Some departments are potentially being closed at Liverpool because of the perceived disproportionate emphasis on research against teaching, so even if your teaching is strong if your research is not then that is having a negative impact on the student experience.[323]

170. These responses show a range of views. Taking all the comments we received on the relationship between teaching and research[324] they showed us that many students were aware that their teachers were engaged in research. We should add that when we visited the American Council for Education they pointed out that the "National Survey of Student Engagement"[325] showed that student satisfaction was correlated with research. Most of the students who responded to our inquiry saw the connection between teaching and research as positive, finding the proximity to research stimulating and the quality of teachers' scholarship enhanced. They also identified some negative effects such as cancelled classes and unavailability of lecturers. We conclude that, where research impacts negatively on teaching, the university authorities should be expected to address the deficiencies.


171. Despite seeking evidence to establish the relationship between research and teaching regularly during the course of the inquiry[326] it was only towards the end when we put the question to John Denham that we received a detailed response. In a supplementary written memorandum DIUS explained:

    The link between research and teaching has been of increasing interest to researchers over the last 20 years, with the balance of the evidence ebbing and flowing. The evidence is not strong in demonstrating a direct link between research and the quality of teaching. However, studies also note that there are many tangential and ephemeral aspects that impact on teaching that are hard to pin down.

    To summarise, early studies generally concluded that there is no necessary relationship between teaching and research. However, studies focusing on student perceptions have shown that students value learning in a research environment. Hattie and Marsh […] conducted a large meta analysis of research studies in this area and concluded that there was no inextricable link between research and teaching, but that purposeful action by universities could bring about that linkage, through actions such as better training for staff in teaching, through curriculum change, and by being explicit about good teaching at university level being about more than imparting information.[327]

172. Having examined the material supplied by DIUS we cannot see that convincing evidence is currently available to prove the assertion that good-quality research is essential for good teaching of undergraduates. In our view, the evidence is at best mixed and there may be different relationships between research and teaching not just across disciplines within institutions and even within departments and that across the sector these relationships may range from mutually supportive to antagonistic. The nature of the relationship is, however, of crucial importance. It highlights a serious and fundamental question about the nature of a "university education", the distribution of excellence and the relative roles of teaching, research and scholarship in supporting student learning, not least in terms of developing students' professional and learning skills. We recommend that the Government commission and publish independent research in this area to inform future policy decisions.

173. As the evidence we set out above shows, some institutions are encouraging and developing their students' research skills, and we applaud this development as it will develop their analytical and "employability" skills—see paragraph 202. In our view increased opportunities for undergraduates to engage in research within their programmes of study may lead to a requirement that those teaching such students have at least a basic appreciation and experience of carrying out research, thus leading to a strengthening of "research-informed teaching". We consider that the extent to which undergraduates across the higher education sector are expected to carry out research as part of their programme of study and the extent to which those teaching and supervising such students need to be actively engaged in research themselves are both matters that should be addressed in the research which we recommend that the Government commissions. The results of this research may require a significant reassessment of where and how resources are allocated between teaching and research. If the research were to find that good teaching does not need to be underpinned with research, the Government could—as an example—have the opportunity to focus investment in research in science-related subjects in fewer universities.


174. On the assumption that there is a link between research and teaching there is a dilemma for those allocating QR funding to higher education institutions. Because the purpose of the Government in providing funds for research is to optimise the outcomes of research, and, if it believes that selective funding is needed to achieve this (something on which we do not comment in this Report), then, in our view, it would be a reasonable policy to concentrate funds to achieve the best value for the taxpayer. But simultaneously the Government wants all students to experience the best teaching. It follows from the latter that, if good teaching accompanies research activity, then the resources for research should be spread widely, to enable students in all higher education institutions to benefit from an improvement of teaching. That would not necessarily further the purposes for which the government provides funding for research. One potentially positive step would be for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to give greater weight to the impact that research has on teaching. We invite the Government in responding to this Report to comment on the proposition that one of the indicators of excellence to be taken into account by the Research Excellence Framework will be the demonstrable effect that research and teaching have on each other in institutions, and also the broader contribution which academics submitting to the REF make to pedagogic research and by implication pedagogic practice.


175. A second step to easing tension between research and teaching could be achieved with greater emphasis on pedagogy and recognition of research into pedagogy. The Institute of Physics wished to see "at least one member of staff specialising in teaching innovation", which, it pointed out, was common practice in American state universities.[328] The Institute said that a more practical solution would be to encourage a community of such academics which could cater for a range of universities and that having "someone active in pedagogy research available to a physics department would ensure contact with people active in frontline physics research". It added that a way to pay for these academics would need to be determined.[329]

176. The Staff and Educational Development Association submitted that research into pedagogy had been "belittled and that committed subject teachers have found it impossible to develop an equivalence either in their generic or discipline-based pedagogic research to their discipline-based research."[330] In its view, much of the financing of innovation had been less efficient than it could have been because of the absence of a scholarly pedagogic culture able to incorporate project outputs in a systematic and managed way. The Association explained that in many universities the current analysis was that the core teaching processes were "working well, the prestige of the institution is high, and innovation is an enhancement activity rather than the core of essential reform" and that in these places the claim was made that modest incremental improvement would be sufficient to guarantee high quality. The Association's view was that a "more critical approach" was required, and that "funding both to devise and then embed innovation is a necessary part of a bigger package of simultaneous developments".[331] We recommend that the Research Excellence Framework explicitly recognises and gives credence to research into pedagogy and the teaching within, and across, disciplines. In other words, a chemistry lecturer who researches teaching in chemistry must have a category in which such activity can be recorded and recognised with new "expert pedagogic research" panels established, if necessary, and able to do that job.


177. We asked a number of academics and Vice-Chancellors whether assessment for promotion took account of expertise in areas other than research, in particular teaching. Professor Norton, an academic at Liverpool Hope University, responded that:

    in our own university […] it is clearly written into our promotions criteria that we would expect that, over and above being a really good lecturer, to be promoted from lecturer to senior lecturer to principal lecturer. I can see that rewarding staff for teaching as well as for research is something that is happening, perhaps not as quickly as we would want it to happen but it is happening. I think there is student pressure for it to happen even more, so I think there are external drivers.[332]

Professor Saunders from the University of Liverpool said that on "our scoring system, research and teaching are weighted equally and then there is 'other', which includes administration and outreach".[333] Similarly, Professor Arthur said that:

    I can speak for the University of Leeds. We are currently in the process of redesigning all of our promotions criteria to give an equal weight to learning and teaching, enterprise and knowledge transfer, and research. We are in the final throes of how you do that at professorial level; we have already done and agreed it with the UCU for all of the other grades.[334]

178. On the basis of the replies we obtained during our inquiry it appears that higher education institutions are attaching increasing weight to teaching skills when considering academics' appointments and promotions, although it appears that the degree to which teaching counts varies across institutions as well as in relation to promotion level (that is, it may be easier to become a "teaching-led senior lecturer" than a "teaching-led professor"). We welcome the increased weighting being given to teaching as it enhances the importance and value of this crucial aspect of university work, not least for students. In our view, greater clarity across the sector on the weight attached to teaching in assessments for promotion would, in combination with a focus on a heightened professionalism, enhance the status of teaching within the sector. We consider that the higher education sector needs to be clearer about the circumstances in which promotion and progression can be achieved on the basis of pedagogical skills, scholarship and expertise. We recommend that the Government require higher education institutions in receipt of public funds to ensure that they have put in place clear and effective criteria for appointments and promotions based on teaching.

Higher Education Academy

179. The Higher Education Academy was formed in 2004 and brought together the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, the Learning and Teaching Support Network and the Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund's National Co-ordination Team, with the aim of creating a single, central body to support the enhancement of learning and teaching in higher education. The Academy is "owned" by its members, Universities UK and GuildHE, and receives the majority of its funding from the four UK higher education funding bodies, with further income derived from subscriptions by higher education institutions.[335] (According to HEFCE's accounts, it provided £21.9 million to the Academy in 2007-08.)[336] The Academy's "mission" is to help institutions, discipline groups and all staff to provide the best possible learning experience for their students.[337] The Academy's strategic aims are to:

    a)  identify, develop and disseminate evidence-informed approaches;

    b)  broker and encourage the sharing of effective practice;

    c)  support universities and colleges in bringing about strategic change;

    d)  inform, influence and interpret policy; and

    e)  raise the status of teaching.[338]

180. We asked the Academy what difference it had made as result of the support it had received from the taxpayer. Professor Ramsden, Chief Executive of the Academy, considered that there had "been an improvement in [the] standard of teaching in higher education over the last five to ten years […] The extent to which the Academy can say it has achieved that and encouraged that, I think is a difficult question to answer".[339] We found this answer disappointing for two reasons. First, if the Higher Education Academy is operating effectively and meeting its strategic aims, we consider that, working with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, it should be able to play a key role in promoting and enhancing academic standards and in driving forward the changes we suggest are needed in this Report. If, however, the Academy is not working effectively we conclude that it will not be able to play its full part in promoting and enhancing academic standards in higher education.

181. Second, Professor Ramsden's evidence raises a question about the value for money that the taxpayer is obtaining for the substantial amount of subsidy paid to the Academy. We note that the final report on the interim evaluation of the Academy published in January 2008 found that:

    the Academy is not yet realising its full potential. Particular issues, both strategic and operational in nature, need to be addressed as a matter of priority. These issues are significant but surmountable, and throughout this report we set out proposals for their resolution.[340]

We remain concerned that the Academy could not demonstrate what value it added for the money supplied by the taxpayer or show that it was providing good value for money. We recommend that HEFCE carry out a further evaluation of the operation and effectiveness of the Higher Education Academy by the end of the year and publish the evaluation. The operation and effectiveness of the Academy is an issue that our successor committee with responsibility for scrutinising higher education may wish to examine.

182. On student engagement, we noted from the Academy's written evidence that in "the four and a half years we have been working we have found institutions keen to work with us to enhance the quality of students' experiences"[341] and that while "universities and colleges are taking increasing notice of the 'student voice', and the Government has programmes such as the National Student Forum, the experience of the Higher Education Academy is that there is some way to go."[342] When Professor Ramsden gave oral evidence we were concerned about the extent to which the Academy involved students currently studying in institutions in its work,[343] though we took some comfort from his acknowledgment that the Academy needed to "engage more with students through not only the higher education academics but also institutions to do that because they have a very, very big part to play in enhancing quality and I think we need to use that resource".[344] After the oral evidence session the Academy supplied a supplementary memorandum.[345] The Academy was confident that it had made a positive difference to the quality of the student experience in UK higher education and cited the Professional Standards Framework, which it had introduced,[346] though it said that there had been no systematic review of the extent to which higher education institutions were using it to support the development of teaching.[347] The Academy also explained in detail—and with examples—that it involved students in its work at all levels—from membership of its Board, to strategic partnerships with the NUS, to work with individual students in its subject centres.

183. We are grateful to the Academy for supplying the additional information. It has not, however, removed our concerns completely. Despite it seeing its role as focused on enhancing the student experience, the Academy appears to have no means of systematically accessing directly the views and experiences of students. We recommend that, whilst taking account of the work of the National Student Forum, as a condition of continued support the Government require the Higher Education Academy to establish its own student forum for the purpose of accessing directly the views and experiences of students, particularly in relation to its own areas of focus. In addition, we recommend that the Government review the operation and use by higher education institutions of the Academy's Professional Standards Framework and we recommend that the Government require the Academy to produce "steering" statements in relation to academic staff development as a means for improving the student experience.

184. Finally, regarding our recommendation—at paragraph 186—that all staff, including current staff in higher education who teach, should be required to have training and encouraged to obtain a higher education teaching qualification, we see a role for the Academy to encourage established staff to engage in professional development in relation to their teaching responsibilities and to set up systems to record their development. We recommend that the Government require the Higher Education Academy as a condition for continued support through HEFCE to develop arrangements to encourage established academic staff to engage in professional development in relation to their teaching responsibilities and to set up systems to record their development. In return for this support from the taxpayer through the Academy we expect higher education institutions to press their staff to continue their professional development.

Teaching qualification and training

185. We examined the question of teaching skills (or pedagogy) and the need for a teaching qualification. The Heads of Education and Development Group pointed out that the "widespread introduction of pedagogical development programmes for staff new to teaching in Higher Education has been successful as proven, for instance, in improving student satisfaction scores across the sector."[348] Currently, however, higher education institutions differ in the way they "induct" and "train" new lecturing staff: practices range from some which do not have any compulsory provision to others which require that all new staff undertake a mandatory programme up to Postgraduate Certificate in Education in Higher Education (PGCE HE) level. The Higher Education Academy told us that higher education institutions took different approaches to accreditation. The Academy had information about the programmes that it accredited: it had 285 accredited programmes from 134 higher education institutions, not all of these programmes were PG Certificate in Higher Education but included continuing professional development (CPD) schemes and modules that enabled staff to meet the criteria in the Professional Standards Framework. The Academy did not accredit any further education college programmes, but it told us that many colleges offered provision that was validated by higher education institutions. On the question of how many higher education institutions required staff to have a PGCE, the Academy's experience was that this was a requirement for the vast majority, but detailed figures were not available.[349] The Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit Roehampton University said that:

    Pedagogic development programmes for new academic staff are in place here and elsewhere, many aligned to the UK Professional Standards Framework but often they are not compulsory and not entirely valued by the institution. Ironically new staff often don't attend because they are too busy teaching and thus teach with no training, no awareness of the scholarship and research in this area. They research as professionals and teach as amateurs.[350]

In a supplementary memorandum, the Staff and Educational Development Association told us that it was "so important for the quality of student learning that, as soon as possible, all staff who teach should be expected to achieve Standard Two of the National Professional Standards Framework".[351] When we asked a group of mid-career academics whether every lecturer should be trained to teach they all replied that they should.[352]

186. We see force in the Association's views and we consider that current teaching staff and graduate students who teach and carry out pedagogical functions should have adequate training. As one respondent to the e-consultation pointed out when commenting on inadequate teaching: "the worst offenders are the PhD students […] who are employed to run lab sessions (in which they refuse to help), mark coursework (which is always carried out suspiciously quickly and inconsistently) and give lacklustre tutorial sessions (these involve a couple of half-baked PowerPoint slides and quickly deteriorate into having a chat)."[353] We conclude that all staff—new entrants, current staff and graduate students—in higher education who teach should be encouraged to obtain a higher education teaching qualification, which, depending on an individual's role and level of experience, should be achieved through initial training or on the basis of continuing professional development. (To assist staff, particularly those established in post, to develop their teaching skills we envisage that the Higher Education Academy should develop its current arrangements to provide assistance—see paragraph 184.) We also recommend that the Government, in consultation with the higher education sector, including student representatives, review the use of graduate students in teaching roles and examine whether additional means of support—such as the development of mentoring arrangements and contracts of appointment—are required.

187. There appears to us to be a wide range of professional pedagogical courses and support available from, for example, the Higher Education Academy, which, as we note above, have been developed with considerable support from the taxpayer. We recommend that the Government in consultation with the higher education sector, including student representatives, draw-up and agree a strategy to require all university staff engaged in regular and significant teaching to undertake appropriate training in pedagogical skills and also to encourage staff across higher education institutions in England to obtain a professional teaching qualification. We further recommend that the Government require higher education institutions as a condition of support from the taxpayer to have in place programmes to enhance the teaching effectiveness of all academic staff who have teaching responsibilities. We recommend that, within its review processes, the QAA monitor and report on the extent to which institutions are demonstrably meeting this requirement.


188. Respondents to the e-consultation made the point that there appeared to be no mechanism for dealing with poor teachers in universities, unlike schools, and that deans of faculties appeared unresponsive and were often not accountable to students for inadequate teaching.[354] As one respondent put it:

    In a lot of lectures, the entire year group are made to feel like an inconvenience. Complaints go unheard, student reps seem to be ignored even when the same complaints arise, and the bog-standard answer to most requests for help seems to be "You should know it already, so I won't tell you." Yes, there are times when the asker should certainly be at a standard in year 3 where they shouldn't have to ask for help with year 1 or 2 principles, but if 10/20 students on a course of 80 (down from 130 in year 1) are all asking the same things, shouldn't this set off alarm bells as to why so many students are struggling? Apparently not.[355]

189. We asked Professor Ramsden of the Higher Education Academy how the sector dealt with the brilliant researcher who was a hopeless teacher. He replied:

    it matters very much because that researcher […] went into academia not just to do research but also to share his knowledge, his experience and his inspiration with other people. I believe that is a very important part of what all academics should do. It is obviously up to universities to encourage that. My view is—and it is anecdotal evidence—that they do encourage it, but we encourage it from the Higher Education Academy's point of view by working with the higher education sector to develop a national professional standards framework for teaching which all academics are expected—and it is self-regulating—to rise up to.[356]

190. The encouragement of lecturers to obtain a higher education teaching qualification could be part of the answer to poor teaching. It cannot be the only solution. For sustained improvement to be made, higher education institutions across the sector need to respond actively to the concerns of students about poor teaching—after all, students are in an excellent position to judge the quality of teaching—and identify the remedial action required and ensure that, with support, it is carried through and improvements made. We note press reports that the students' union at one university recently set up a "Late" hotline after repeated complaints about cancelled lectures and students sitting around waiting for their teachers.[357] We have not examined the operation of this facility but, in our view, it shows that the views of students on the quality of teaching can, and should, be channelled to university authorities. We conclude that the Government and the higher education sector, in consultation with student representatives, should draw up and implement arrangements applicable across the sector which allow students to convey concerns about poor teaching and which ensure that universities take effective remedial action. We consider that such arrangements once established should be subject to review by the Quality Assurance Agency to ensure that they allow students to convey concerns and that remedial action is taken, where warranted.

191. We discuss in the next chapter the question of standards and quality, including at paragraphs 225 and 226 the role of the Quality Assurance Agency in reviewing the quality of teaching.


192. Professor Trainor, President of Universities UK, defined scholarship as "information about a discipline at the highest level of available knowledge".[358] In our view, it goes without question that those who teach in higher education need to maintain an active and up-to-date scholarship of the whole area on which they teach. This is especially important where an academic's specialist research is narrowly focussed but the same individual is expected to teach across a broad subject area. The issue for us was what arrangements should be in place to safeguard scholarship and research.

193. The Higher Education Academy pointed out that it has supported higher education institutions by promoting "the professionalisation of and excellence in teaching through a number of means", including the UK Professional Standards Framework, which "requires academics to demonstrate the incorporation of scholarship, research and professional practice into their teaching activity".[359] We consider that all academic staff in higher education engaged in regular and significant teaching should be able to demonstrate the incorporation of up-to-date scholarship, research and professional practice into their teaching.

Quality of feedback given by teachers to students

194. The views of students responding to the e-consultation on the quality of feedback varied. For example, one student said that feedback was "usually prompt and detailed, explaining the good and bad parts of your work and how it could be improved." This was not, however, the majority view. Criticism included one student who said that feedback and consistency of marking were "awful" while another said that the "feedback I have been given ranges from no comments to well done to 'don't use bullet points'". The respondent believed that this provided "insufficient feedback to learn how to improve my work. Each lecturer should have to put one good point about the work that should be continued for future work, and one bad point that needs to be improved on. This way, students can learn what they are doing right and the improvements needed."[360]

195. The oral evidence from students showed a similar pattern. In a typical comment, Jun Rentschler, a student, told us:

    I have to say that I am quite dissatisfied with the feedback. […I]n the first year I submitted some work and I got [a good mark], say it was 72 per cent. The lecturer told me it is a good piece of work so I said "There is one-third missing, where is it?" and she said "You cannot score better than 80 in the first place" and I said "All right, what is missing then?" She said it was just the general impression or something like that […] I did not know what I did wrong, I did not know how to improve my work, and that has been similar throughout the last two years.[361]

A student at the same evidence session, Sally Tye, gave a contrasting perspective:

    I have had a very different experience. On every single piece of work […] we get the cover sheet marked with all the different requirements and what mark we have got with comments at the bottom. Usually on an essay we have to go for a tutorial to pick up our work and they go through it with us as to what we need to do. If we have done a presentation then usually at the end of the presentation we get feedback on exactly what we have done wrong and why we have got the mark we have got.[362]

Wes Streeting, President of the NUS, also identified feedback as "often seen as a source of concern" for students. He knew from NUS research that "25 per cent of students cited they do receive verbal feedback on their assessment, but 71 per cent actually want it".[363]

196. We note that the QAA produced a code of practice on the assessment of students, which stated that it "is good practice to provide students with sufficient, constructive and timely feedback on their work in respect of all types of assessment".[364] We are therefore surprised that feedback on students' work is an issue of such concern and that the sector as a whole (rather than at the level of individual institutions) has not to date been more successful in addressing the matter. Whilst individual institutions may have developed effective institutional or course-based guidance, we conclude that there is a need for a code of practice across the higher education sector, which builds on the QAA's "Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education Section 6: Assessment of students". It is our view that, whether at the level of module, course, department or institution, students should be provided with more personalised information about the intended parameters of their own assessment experience. It is unacceptable and disheartening for any piece of work whether good, average or poor to be returned to a student with only a percentage mark and no comments or with feedback but after such a long time that the feedback is ineffective. We recommend that the Government require the Higher Education Academy to draw up, in consultation with the higher education sector, including representative students, a code of practice on (i) the timing, (ii) the quantity, and (iii) the format and content of feedback and require higher education institutions to demonstrate how they are following the Code when providing feedback to students in receipt of support from the taxpayer.

292   Ev 170 Back

293   See para 261. Back

294   Q 281 Back

295   As those responding to the electronic consultation did not have to state which higher education institution they were attending it was not always possible to establish which institution they were attending. In some cases an institution was identified in the text supplied. Back

296   Ev 170 Back

297   Ev 460, para 18 Back

298   Ev 177, para 34 Back

299   Ev 177, para 35 Back

300   Ev 177, para 36 Back

301   Ev 409, para 21 Back

302   Ev 346, paras 4.1-4.2; see also Qq 14-25. Back

303   Ev 313, paras 23-24; see also Q 428 (Professor Driscoll) Back

304   Q 72 Back

305   Q 72 Back

306   Q 569 Back

307   Q 560 Back

308   Q 428 (Professor Brown) Back

309   As above Back

310   Q 428 (Professor Driscoll) Back

311   As above Back

312   As above Back

313   Q 459 (Mr Steward) Back

314   HC 370-iii, Q 466 (Mr Chotai) Back

315   HC 370-i, Q 119 (Mr Nussey) Back

316   HC 370-i, Q 154 (Mr Nussey) Back

317   Q 207 (Ms Donaghy) Back

318   Q 206 (Mr Williamson) Back

319   HC 370-i, Qq 147 and 149 (Mr Hodgson) Back

320   HC 370-i, Q 152 (Ms Jerome) Back

321   Ev 171 (E-Consultation) Back

322   HC 370-iii, Q 462 (Ms Jerome) Back

323   HC 370-iii, Q 470 Back

324   For example, Q 203 ff, HC 370-i, Q 144 ff, HC 370-ii, Q 334 ff. Back

325   The National Survey of Student Engagement in the US obtains, on an annual basis, information from hundreds of four-year colleges and universities nationwide about student participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for their learning and personal development. See

326   For example, Qq 8 ff, Qq 138-39, Qq 280 ff, HC 370-i, Qq 29 ff, Qq 428 ff. Back

327   Ev 533, paras 1-2 Back

328   Ev 231, para 12 Back

329   As above Back

330   Ev 268, para 4.2 Back

331   Ev 268, para 4.3 Back

332   HC 370-i, Q 71 Back

333   HC 370-i, Q38 Back

334   Q 435 Back

335   Oakleigh Consulting Ltd, Interim Evaluation of the Higher Education Academy: A report to HEFCE, HEFCW, SFC, DELNI, GuildHE and UUK, January 2008, para 1.2 Back

336   HEFCE, Annual: report and accounts 2007-08, HC (2007-08) 498, May 2008, p 78 Back

337   Oakleigh Consulting Ltd, Interim Evaluation of the Higher Education Academy: A report to HEFCE, HEFCW, SFC, DELNI, GuildHE and UUK, January 2008, para 1.2 Back

338   Higher Education Academy, The Higher Education Academy Strategic Plan 2008-13, July 2008, p 1; Ev 305, para 1.2; Ev 493 Back

339   Q 373 Back

340   "Interim Evaluation of the Higher Education Academy", A report to HEFCE, HEFCW, SFC, DELNI, GuildHE and UUK by Oakleigh Consulting Ltd, January 2008, para 1.3 Back

341   Ev 305, para 1.3 Back

342   Ev 309, para 5.1 Back

343   Qq 375-77 Back

344   Q 377 Back

345   Ev 492 Back

346   Ev 493; see also Ev 307, para 3.5 Back

347   Ev 307, para 3.6 Back

348   Ev 291 Back

349   In e-mails dated 3 and 13 July 2009, in response to a question about the number of institutions that have PGCE higher education programmes and require all staff to have a PGCE, the Higher Education Academy explained to the Committee: "Institutions take different approaches to accredited provision. The Academy only has information about the programmes that we accredit (which is only part of what is available to the sector). We currently have 285 accredited programmes from 134 higher education institutions. Not all of these programmes are PG Cert in Higher Education as we also accredit CPD schemes and modules that enable staff to meet the criteria in the Professional Standards Framework.
"We do not ourselves accredit any FE college programmes, but many colleges offer provision that is validated by HEIs and that can lead successful participants to gain Associate status of the Academy.
"On the question of how many HEIs require staff to have a PGCE, we are not sure that anyone would collect this information centrally. Our experience is that this is a requirement in the vast majority, but the Academy does not collect the hard figures that would back this up." 

350   Ev 249 Back

351   Ev 526 Back

352   Q 495 Back

353   Ev 170 Back

354   Ev 170 Back

355   Ev 170-71 Back

356   Q 371 Back

357   "Students 'spying' on lecturers who turn up late", The Times, 30 April 2009 Back

358   Q 10 Back

359   Ev 307, paras 3.2-3.3 Back

360   Ev 171; see also Ev 159 (Informal meeting with students at Imperial College London). Back

361   HC 370-ii, Q 326 Back

362   HC 370-ii, Q 327 Back

363   Q 123 Back

364   QAA, "Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education Section 6: Assessment of students", September 2006, p 20 Back

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