Don’t rush to erect a di­vi­sive hi­er­ar­chy

THE (Times Higher Education) - - LETTERS -

In his chal­lenge to the es­tab­lished hi­er­ar­chy of uni­ver­si­ties (“Snob­bery to­wards mod­ern uni­ver­si­ties is un­fair and out­dated”, Opin­ion, 3 Fe­bru­ary, www.timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com), Ed­ward Peck, the vice­chan­cel­lor of Not­ting­ham Trent Univer­sity, pro­poses new cat­e­gories of “teach­ing­in­ten­sive” and “teach­ing­ac­tive” uni­ver­si­ties, to match des­ig­na­tions for re­search.

He asks why a record of suc­cess in the teach­ing ex­cel­lence frame­work, in widening par­tic­i­pa­tion and in grad­u­ate em­ploy­ ment does not trans­late into a judge­ment of pres­tige. Peck also laments the en­dur­ing truth of the ob­ser­va­tion made by Sir Howard Newby in 2003 that “the English [have a] ge­nius for turn­ing di­ver­sity into hi­er­ar­chy”.

How­ever, as Roger Brown re­cently pointed out, we do not have sub­stan­tial di­ver­sity of mis­sion in UK higher ed­u­ca­tion, and we find “re­duced be­tween- in­sti­tu­tion di­ver­sity of mis­sion, with em­u­la­tion be­ing the main form of com­pe­ti­tion in a po­si­tional mar­ket”. This de­sire for em­u­la­tion has meant that most UK uni­ver­si­ties have sought to sig­nal pres­tige by re­search achieve­ment. To that end, many have im­posed re­search­per­for­mance cri­te­ria on their re­search­ac­tive staff. Those ex­pec­ta­tions for read­ers and pro­fes­sors at Not­ting­ham Trent do not dif­fer sig­nif­i­cantly from those cir­cu­lat­ing in Rus­sell Group uni­ver­si­ties, and nei­ther do the dis­ci­plinary con­se­quences for not meet­ing them.

One lim­i­ta­tion of his ar­gu­ment is that Peck does not sup­ply any ev­i­dence that re­search­in­ten­sive uni­ver­si­ties are nec­es­sar­ily less teach­ing­in­ten­sive. In fact, teach­ing loads have climbed for all staff at Rus­sell Group uni­ver­si­ties as new work­load mod­els have been in­tro­duced. At many uni­ver­si­ties, much of the teach­ing is de­liv­ered by a ca­su­alised work­force of highly qual­i­fied aca­demics whose ca­reer op­tions do not al­low any other choice but to be teach­ing­in­ten­sive.

In any case, if we take the stu­dent ex­pe­ri­ence as the point of ref­er­ence, it is not ap­par­ent that stu­dents en­joy more teach­ing in­ten­sity at uni­ver­si­ties that are mem­bers of Peck’s Univer­sity Al­liance than they do at those of the Rus­sell Group. The Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Fund­ing Coun­cil for Eng­land has just re­leased the new sub­jectlevel TEF mea­sures of teach­ing in­ten­sity, and a key fac­tor in the weight­ing cal­cu­la­tion is staff­tostu­dent ra­tio. Con­se­quently, if Rus­sell Group uni­ver­si­ties are found to of­fer a lower staff­tostu­dent ra­tio, this will trans­late into a mea­sure of greater teach­ing in­ten­sity. The TEF will also in­clude a cor­rob­o­rat­ing Teach­ing In­ten­sity Stu­dent Sur­vey, in which stu­dents will be asked about their sched­uled teach­ing hours.

It re­mains to be seen whether the met­ric will pro­vide clar­ity, but un­til there is ev­i­dence by which we can com­pare teach­ing in­ten­sity, it might be best to avoid in­tro­duc­ing un­wel­come di­vi­sions into a sec­tor that would be best served by sol­i­dar­ity.

Liz Mor­rish

Not­ting­ham

It is not ap­par­ent that stu­dents en­joy more teach­ing in­ten­sity at Univer­sity Al­liance in­sti­tu­tions than at Rus­sell Group ones

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