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That’s one small step for an academic, one giant leap for academia

“We want more of you!”

This week I attended a small ceremony to celebrate my recent qualification as an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), and that’s the point of this post – it was small.

If you are not familiar with the UK professional standards framework (UKPSF) and HEA fellowships then read here.  Fellowships are a professional recognition of teaching standard and commitment with Associate Fellow being the lowest level for early career staff and Principle Fellow being the highest.  Routes to fellowship vary amongst staff and universities, I submitted a teaching portfolio whilst others can opt for courses.

I have written here and here on the research-teaching nexus and how we should recognise and reward excellence in teaching as well as research.  Reporting on the results of the 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey, The Guardian and the Times Higher Education websites have this week uncovered the importance even our students place on staff teaching qualifications:

[The Guardian] “Students would prefer lecturers to have teaching qualifications and industry experience…Only 17% said that staff being active researchers was the most important characteristic.”

[The Times Higher Education] “Demand for teacher training was strongest at Russell Group universities, where 49 per cent listed this as their most desirable characteristic in staff, as opposed to 23 per cent who most valued having research-active staff in their classrooms.”

Together with the governments pledge to introduce a ‘teaching REF’, these survey results reignite debate over whether teaching qualifications for university staff should become compulsory.

It was clear from this weeks celebration that my Russell Group institution intends to drastically increase its percentage of recognised HEA fellows; this is already being evidenced by the emergence of departmental prizes and a fellowship mentoring system.  The numbers and levels of HEA fellowships will almost certainly become part of measuring university teaching excellence, clearly a very important ranking for prospective students and one that the newer ‘post 92’ institutions may well dominate.  Staff are being asked to take a small step towards fellowship to help the university leap towards teaching excellence.

Please debate in the comments your views.  Whilst I agree the university needs more HEA fellows, I’m not sure compulsory training across the board is the answer given it in no way guarantees a great teacher.  What is needed, and I’ve said it before, is equal incentives and reward for teaching as well as research.

Most academic job adverts now list a teaching qualification as at least a desired requirement and in our oversupplied market my advice for budding lecturers is to get one.  Soon.  While certainly time consuming, the whole process was worthwhile and dare I admit enjoyable.  I got a certificate and more letters after my name but most importantly of all it is a continuous process; I am learning an awful lot from the highly supportive world of teaching and learning which is helping and inspiring me to truly improve student learning and experience.

So it’s check! and check! to having a teaching qualification and industry experience…students – walk this way!