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


Memorandum 27

Submission from the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit, Roehampton University, London

  Written evidence in relation to:

    — the balance between teaching and research

    — student support and engagement

SUMMARY

    — Research funding is traditionally seen as more prestigious than funding to develop or explore teaching methods or rewards for teaching excellence, because promotion still prioritises a traditional research profile.— The focus on the RAE draws attention away from the scholarly, professional approach to researching teaching learning and assessment and the development of an infrastructure to successfully implement institutional change. We are at risk of being unprepared for the challenges of 21st century HE.

    — 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.

    — In the current culture, established academic staff are not encouraged to enhance and develop their understanding of learning teaching and assessment even though professional frameworks exist through bodies such as SEDA (Staff and Educational Development Association).

    — The changes to student populations, the development of new technologies for learning and new funding arrangements all require new approaches to learning teaching and assessment which go beyond the medieval lecture and seminar arrangement.

RESPONSES TO PARTICULAR ISSUES

1.  Levels of funding for, and the balance between, teaching and research in UK HEIs, and the adequacy of financial support for the development of innovative teaching methods and teaching/research integration

  1.1  The focus on the RAE draws attention away from a scholarly, professional approach to researching teaching, learning and assessment and the development of an infrastructure to successfully implement change. There is little incentive to be a caring, supportive motivating teacher.

1.2  We do need to find ways to support academic staff who, in their day to day teaching, are developing new methods and integrating teaching and research in exciting ways. Bidding for special teaching projects at university level and national level is sometimes seen as an additional task which they don't make time for because promotion is most commonly linked to one's research profile.

1.3  Inevitably in a university like ours the funding for research makes it difficult to adequately fund the development of early career researchers and the production of resulting publications. Research funding is not easy to secure (and becoming more difficult) but when staff do manage it, it does release them from some other duties. We often lose excellent teachers to research. What we desire are academic staff who can do both.

2.  The quality of teaching provision and learning facilities in UK and the extent to which they vary between HEIs

  2.1.  While wholeheartedly welcoming the increase in student numbers, a University needs to invest in enhancing the teaching and learning experience. This is an area that has been neglected nationally and we continue to rely on outmoded methods and classrooms even though a growing body of research points to new and more cost effective, technologically rich, personalised pedagogies. Enhancement is rarely seen as a core activity and can be vulnerable to changes in HEFCE funding (such as TESS moving into core funding next year).

2.2.  Teaching provision and facilities van vary enormously across a University as well as across HEI's. This is an equity issue.

  2.3  An urgent priority is to maintain and enhance the professional development of new academic and academic support staff and the ongoing professional development of established staff through observation of teaching, development and scholarship programmes and promotion and appraisal frameworks which value such pedagogic development.

3.  The suitability of methods of assessing excellence in teaching and research and the impact of research assessment on these activities

  3.1.  We recognize the value of schemes such as the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme, however significant research points to notions of the "teaching team", "communities of learning and of enquiry" and the wider holistic experience of the student. At this university we have encouraged group Teaching Fellowships to recognize this but the funding for these may be cut as Teaching Quality Enhancement Funds are replaced by TESS.

3.2.  The impact of the RAE is well known—a drain on resources and on staff energy which could have been used to achieve the very outputs it was measuring. We are working at Roehampton to develop a promotion route for leadership in learning and teaching and as part of this we will identifying the kind of teaching evidence a lecturer might use.

4.  the availability and adequacy of training in teaching methods for UK academics and the importance of teaching excellence for the academic career path, including consideration of the role of teaching fellows

  4.1.  Like most other universities we offer a programme for new staff and new academic support staff recognized by the HE Academy and SEDA and aligned to the UK Professional Standards Framework. Those who take this route regularly speak of its value. We are excited by the creation of SEDA's Professional Development Framework but frustrated that most academic staff do not expect to engage with pedagogic professional development through their career. Few staff take the option of a promotion route for leadership in learning and teaching or of becoming a Teaching Fellow because the research route is so entrenched and nationally the sector constantly battles to encourage the majority of established staff to engage with learning and teaching issues. The evaluation of the National Teaching Fellowship scheme indicates how difficult it was for some to bring about pedagogic change having received their award. There needs to be more encouragement and esteem for pedagogic research and continuing professional development. Yet at the same time, we do not want to create separate posts—those who mainly teach and those who mainly research.

5.  the responsibilities of the Government and HEFCE in assuring (a) the quality of teaching provision and learning opportunities in UK HEIs; and (b) the balance between teaching and research in HEIs

5.1.  HEFCE could aid the sector by looking again at university HR infrastructure to support and enhance professional development in teaching. We still have a long way to go to develop robust mentoring, induction, promotion and appraisal frameworks.

5.2.  Government needs to ensure that enhancement of learning and teaching and assessment remains at the core of the university enterprise if universities are to succeed and flourish with new types of students and new delivery methods. The value added to students by an institution would be a useful measure.

  5.3.  Any changes to the RAE need to militate against the distorting effect of the current exercise.

STUDENT SUPPORT AND ENGAGEMENT

6  The effectiveness of initiatives to support student engagement in the formulation of HE policy, and how the success or otherwise of these initiatives is being assessed

  6.1  Our experience is that many students would like to be more involved in policy formation and as co-researchers of the student experience. Too many university decisions are made without real evidence (see Lewis Elton's submission) and this would be a welcome development. The Scottish student engagement projects have been positively evaluated and could bring a benefit to the English system. We have found that the NSS provides an opportunity to engage with students on analysis and policy formulation and in doing so ensures that students feel valued by the institution.

7.  Examples of reasons for, and potential strategies to reduce, the non-completion of higher education programmes by students

7.1.  We are looking at a mix of hard and soft strategies to improve non completion through relationship building using our personal tutor system and by enhancing the technological structures for record keeping and communicating with students. It may be time to consider that the full time three year degree model needs to be revised as students drop in and out over a longer period of time. We may also find, with a recession that more mature students enter University perhaps more for professional development and interest than with the aim of gaining a degree. Such a market would of course come into conflict with current funding and assurance mechanisms. In addition it is clear that teaching methods have become much more personalized and student centred in schools and colleges and Universities can thus be quite a shock to many students. More needs to be done to build upon the work of the Lifelong Learning Networks to enhance teaching in the HE sector and to learn from the school and college sector.

8.  Any further action required by the Government and/or HEFCE to ensure that UK HEIs offer students a world class educational experience

8.1  While welcoming the investment in recent years for the initial preparation of teachers in HE, we feel that further investment is essential to build capacity and develop those who lead and manage teaching staff and teaching innovation.

8.2  We also believe that there needs to be a focus upon on HR frameworks in universities to ensure long term professional scholarly pedagogic development for all those involved in supporting student learning.

8.3.  Once former ring fenced funds for learning and teaching innovation become core funding then they are vulnerable to calls on that funding from across the University. Momentum can be lost and projects can stall.

ENDORSEMENTS

  We endorse the submissions of Professor Lewis Elton and SEDA.

December 2008






 
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