Posted by: Gillian | August 17, 2011

Research universities know best (or not)

There is no personal slight intended in this – there cannot be as I do not know the authors – but what on earth possessed an official report to say that, in the UK,  only Russell Group universities should set degree syllabi? (http://tinyurl.com/423lr4x)  The Russell Group (RG) is usually/broadly highly rated for research but not for teaching so the idea is that less august establishments can teach to their requirements.  I find this really hard to accept for several reasons:

  1. I have never forgotten the look of complete bewilderment that swept over the faces of all but one august academic when I asked one world-leading institution what they wanted to be the outcomes of their proposed new course.  Eventually the Chair gathered themselves enough to try and put me down with a rather tentative, ‘To be able to think?’
  2. For Research specialists to set curricula for others to follow will inevitably lead to a time delay in quality assurance led delivery of knowledge.  This is:
    1. Reinforcing the supremacy of the RG and those fortunate enough to gain a post-graduate space there.
    2. Relegating all other academics (even previous RG graduates) to ‘mere teaching’
    3. Utterly useless if trying to deliver higher education that is time sensitive and useful to industry as various Governments claim to require.
  3. The best teachers have, historically/pedagogically, not been those who drum in ‘the facts’ but those who inspire curiosity and nurture exploration so it must be inconsistent to state that ‘good teaching’ institutions deliver to syllabi set elsewhere?
  4. It plays into the hands of big business and commoditised learning.  I have no real objection to commoditised learning if it is useful but for a commoditised degree to be useful in a capitalist society, it must lead to a job – and is that guaranteed? That way lead many societal questions. Nor is ‘big business’ necessarily wrong; but it takes a really big-hearted big business to look at the social effect in twenty years’ time instead of the bottom-line performance in two years’.
  5. On a broader international scale, great thinkers and innovators can run their own courses without so much as a glimpse of a ‘moderation panel’.  That’s not necessarily a good thing but it is where the competition is at so heavy centralisation is going to make international competition very difficult indeed.
  6. There is no obvious understanding that there are other methods of useful learning (e.g. MOOCs) and other more flexible ways of combining high end university education and work.

Rant by no means over but please weigh in!

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