higher ed,  REF

Teaching as ‘punishment’

In looking at issues around digital scholarship and promotion, I examined some of the work on academic tenure. There are usually three strands to tenure: research, teaching and admin/service. These are supposed to count equally, but there is a general feeling that researchers walk taller. There have been many attempts to raise the profile of teaching in the academic community, but a recent article in the Times Higher unintentionally reveals how little success they’ve had.

The piece is about Swansea university and its plans to move “management academics” “to teaching-only roles if they do not have four papers deemed to be of at least 3* quality.” The article reveals several attitudes towards teaching in higher education. For a start it is entitled “Swansea’s tough REF plans provoke disquiet” which suggest a general agreement that teaching-only is harsh. 

If academics have not submitted four papers of the required standard they will be required to do 18 hours contact teaching a week instead of the 6 hours for ‘research-active’. Teaching only is described as a threat.

Now, the problem is that if teaching isn’t as widely recognised as research then being on a teaching only contract may make promotion harder. It is perceived by many as creating a two-tier system of academics in the university. I’m not going to go into that here. One could argue that if in four years you haven’t produced four 3* papers, maybe you aren’t research active and teaching might be a better focus. But what I want to highlight is that the language and assumptions in the piece reveal the research bias that exists in higher ed, despite the fact that the vast majority of a university’s income is derived from teaching.

If you don’t believe me, try reversing “teaching” and “research” in the piece. It quickly becomes amusing, so for examples here are sentences you will never see:

  • “Staff complain over ‘arbitrary’ yardstick and research-only threat”
  • “management academics at Swansea University typically will be moved to research-only roles if they do not score well in the NSS”.
  • “academics who do not have the requisite student satisfaction score will be obliged to research for up to 18 hours a week”

Teaching is frequently treated as a punishment – how does that make students paying hefty fees feel?

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