Teaching, quality and standards
Learning and teaching
4.64 We believe that in order to continue to meet the challenges of the future, there will be an increasing need for Scottish higher education providers to develop new strategies to support the management of learning throughout life, particularly as we move towards a Learning Society. We therefore welcome the National Committee's call for the development of these strategies on a UK-wide basis.
4.65 Learning and teaching practices within and across Scottish higher education providers are diverse in both the type and nature of provision on offer. Students are undoubtedly enriched by this diversity in approach and would not wish to see this tapestry of provision curtailed unnecessarily. We do, however, believe that in order to continue to improve and enhance the academic experience, there is a need to clarify, strengthen and promote learning and teaching in its own right. We therefore support strongly the National Committee's approach to pedagogic issues, including recommendations to strengthen student guidance and support services. In particular, we believe that the quality of learning and teaching in higher education will be enhanced if all higher education providers:
Institute for Learning and
Teaching in Higher Education (the Institute)
4.67 In coming to this view we considered evidence submitted to us by the Educational Institute for Scotland that commented that 'there is still an urgent need for lecturers to be better trained in teaching approaches'.51 We also considered the views of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTC) that suggested that 'registration' with the GTC might be an appropriate 'badge of professionalism' for teachers in higher education.52 Whilst we agree with these views in principle, we are of the view that the nature of teaching in higher education demands a UK-wide focus. We therefore endorse the National Committee's recommendation to establish the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.
4.68 The Institute, with three levels of membership that will recognise superior levels of teaching expertise, will perform three key functions in support of higher education teaching. These are:
4.69 Drawing upon COSHEP's commitment to 'a new approach to staff training and enhancement' we would expect new teaching staff to achieve accredited status.53 To ensure this, we recommend that institutions view the accreditation of their teaching programmes as a priority and encourage all staff to participate.
4.70 Because a substantial proportion of higher education provision is provided in the further education sector in Scotland, we believe that those involved in teaching higher education programmes of study should also be encouraged to join the Institute.
4.72 We also support the National Committee's recommendation that the Institute should promote and stimulate research and good practice in higher education learning and teaching. We note that this should include assisting the sector in making the best use of communications and information technology. We believe this role will become increasingly significant in future as we seek to establish a leading role in the development of innovative approaches to learning that build on technology.
4.73 It is, therefore, our view that the Institute, with professional membership and standing, will provide a number of valuable services to the higher education sector. It will also at the same time, confer status on those who seek and contribute to its membership.
Quality and standards
Teaching quality assessment
|4.76 We are
aware that the Scottish TQA process has recently been
reviewed and that recommended changes in the operation of
the system will be made that will bring the Scottish TQA
in closer alignment with the present English model.54
While we support this change in process for the reasons
set out in the jointly-sponsored SHEFC and COSHEP Miller
Report, we expect the process to remain robust. We are,
therefore, concerned about recommendations set out in the
final report of the Joint Planning Group for Quality
Assurance in Higher Education55 that, if
adopted, would extend the current assessment cycle from
six years to eight years. We believe that eight years is
too long either to assist institutions in a formative
manner or to inform adequately the market. We believe
that to be fully effective, TQA requires a review cycle
of not more than six years.
Quality Assurance Agency
4.79 As autonomous bodies, we believe that higher education institutions are ultimately responsible for the quality and standards of their academic provision and awards. The academic teaching community is the prime source of knowledge and judgement in the design and delivery of academic programmes and ownership and responsibility should continue to rest with them. However, we also believe that the maintenance and assurance of high quality provision is a matter of continuing national interest and concern. We, therefore, support the National Committee's call for strengthening and expanding the role of the new Quality Assurance Agency to include three main functional areas: quality assurance and public information; standards verification; and the maintenance of the proposed qualification framework. We further support the National Committee's recommendation that higher education institutions should be required formally to adopt a code of practice which embodies these arrangements as a condition of public funding.
4.80 In order to meet these aims, we recognise that the Quality Assurance Agency will need to undertake a broad range of activities - we have already noted our support for the establishment of expert subject teams and strengthening the external examiner system in order to assist in the articulation and verification of academic standards. We also believe that the new agency should, in consultation with the sector, have an active role in establishing codes of practice and that compliance with these codes should become a regular part of quality assurance procedures in the future.
4.81 In establishing our support for the new Quality Assurance Agency, we are aware of the debate about whether, and when SHEFC, should join the new Agency. We have given this matter careful consideration, taking into account the views and evidence submitted to the Inquiry by the key parties to this debate.
4.82 We are aware that the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principles (COSHEP) is in favour of a single, UK-wide system of quality assurance for higher education. We have also considered concerns expressed by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) about whether it could meet its statutory responsibilities through the new agency as uncertainties about the cost, governance and quality assurance processes to be adopted by the new agency have not yet been resolved. Having considered the evidence, we believe that Scotland would be best served by Scottish higher education institutions joining and the funding council contracting with the new Quality Assurance Agency at an early date.
4.83 Our support is based upon the proviso that the new UK-wide arrangements will be able to demonstrate sensitivity to the distinctive aspects of Scottish higher education. We believe that this can best be achieved by establishing a Scottish branch to oversee directly the Scottish qualifications framework and to liaise with Scottish institutions. We also believe that arrangements for joining the new agency should:
4.84 We believe that Scottish higher education institutions, individually and collectively, would benefit from being able to have early opportunities to provide assistance in the formulation, piloting and implementation of future UK-wide arrangements for defining standards and assessing quality assurance procedures. We also believe it likely that this influence at an early stage could lead to cost efficiencies as quality processes could be streamlined, for example by working with professional and accrediting bodies, without negatively infringing on the quality process itself. Equally important, we believe that Scottish higher education institutions would be severely disadvantaged compared to other higher education institutions elsewhere in the UK were they excluded from making formal contributions to any new arrangements to be taken forward by the Quality Assurance Agency that might, at a future date, have an impact on operations or provision.