Too many universities in England have allowed teaching to become “a poor cousin” to research, Universities Minister Jo Johnson has warned. Addressing university chiefs, Mr Johnson said while there were academics who “go the extra mile”, too many had adopted a “disengagement contract”. Teaching across the university sector had become “highly variable”, he said. Universities UK said strong support from government was essential for universities to fulfil their duties.
Speaking at the Universities UK annual conference in Guildford, Mr Johnson said too many institutions viewed “scholarly output” as key to their reputation and standing in international league tables. “Teaching has regrettably been allowed to become something of a poor cousin to research in parts of our system,” he said. “I hear this when I talk to worried parents, such as the physics teacher whose son dropped out at the start of year two of a humanities programme at a prestigious London university, having barely set eyes on his tutor. “Her other son, by contrast, studying engineering at Bristol, saw the system at its best: he was worked off his feet, with plenty of support and mostly excellent teaching.
Mr Johnson wants to drive up teaching standards across the higher education sector
“This patchiness in the student experience within and between institutions cannot continue. There is extraordinary teaching that deserves greater recognition. And there is lamentable teaching that must be driven out of our system.”
Mr Johnson said with students in England facing fees of up to £9,000 a year, they deserved to know what they could expect from universities. He hit out at what he described as a disengagement contract. “This goes along the lines of: ‘I don’t want to have to set and mark much by way of essays and assignments which would be a distraction from my research, and you don’t want to do coursework that would distract you from partying. So we’ll award you the degree as the hoped-for job ticket in return for compliance with minimal academic requirements and due receipt of fees.'”
In July Mr Johnson announced plans for a teaching excellence framework that would give students more information about the teaching they will receive. But the president of Universities UK, Prof Dame Julia Goodfellow, said strong support from government was essential for universities to play a full role in transforming people’s lives and helping the economy to grow. “Teaching excellence can only be delivered with stable and sustainable funding,” Dame Julia said. “This is essential to allow universities to continue to deliver a high-quality learning experience for students. “Remember, our graduates are our teachers, our doctors, our engineers, innovators and wealth creators.”