The third session of Thursday’s CAVE Seminar (pdf) on the National Strategy for Higher Education (the Hunt Report) divided into two workshops, one on Research (facilitator: Dr Aiden Seery (TCD); rapporteur: Dr Joan Lalor (TCD)), the other on Teaching and Learning (facilitator: Dr Ciara O’Farrell (TCD); rapporteur: yours truly). The workshops discussed many of the themes of the first two panels, and the rapporteurs’ reports to the final plenary session allowed those discussions to engage with one another. Proceeding from their separate starting points, there was a great deal of convergence in the analysis and conclusions of the two workshops, not least their agreement as to the flaws in the Hunt Report.
Both workshops bemoaned that modern policy is driving a wedge between research on the one hand, and teaching and learning on the other, as reflected in the titles and focus of the two workshops! Both workshops felt that it is crucial for HE to maintain and insist upon parity of esteem of between teaching and learning, on the one hand, with research on the other. However, both workshops felt that government policies and institutional strategies are increasingly favouring a particular kind of research. State funding is mostly for research, since it is easy to ascertain certain research inputs (money) and to measure certain research outputs (for example, PhD numbers, or peer-reviewed publications in the “right” journals in the “right” databases). This approach is almost a business plan in HE, and it is reflected in and reinforced by the Hunt Report’s mechanistic commercial assumptions (relating mainly to “innovation” at the expense of almost every other possible social, cultural or educational value). The Report is all about structures and outcomes, but it has no core education vision in the sense that it has no core vision for educating; it doesn’t answer the question of who and what education is for; and it is therefore inadequate from perspective of teaching and learning. Moreover, it has a particularly limited view of research, focussing on that research that can be applied to commercial innovation at the expense of pure research or critical voices. As national priorities in these areas are set, they might be more palatable if those of us in the HE sector who will be at the coalface of implementing those priorities were involved in setting those priorities.
In the teaching and learning workshop, the discussion ranged over a wide area of practical matters. It was argued that it is important to address weak teaching, give proper support to teaching and learning across the board, and reward to good pedagogy. Discussion considered requiring teaching qualifications of incoming academics, providing similar courses for current academics (these are currently available in many colleges, but there was no agreement on whether they should be compulsory or simply encouraged), and looking towards the establishment of continuing professional development (CPD) programmes, to ensure that academic develop and maintain their teaching knowledge and skills.
In the research workshop, the discussion similarly ranged over a wide area of practical matters. There was much discussion of the need for a proper career structure for researchers. It was emphasised that HE research properly concerns far more than government policy currently encourages or rewards. It seems to favour commercialisable outputs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), at the expense of practise-based research, or entire fields of knowledge, such as the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (AHSS). One suggestion was to explore the extent to which AHSS can be more inter-disciplinary into STEM; another was to argue for a less mechanistic and more inclusive understanding of HE research.
All of these things require a re-ordering of institutional strategy and national policy, but little hope was held out that these would be forthcoming. Instead, in the workshops and plenary session, as well as in the two panels this morning, there was a great deal of fear about public misunderstanding of the role of HE, and that will be the topic of my fourth and final post on last Thursday’s fascinating seminar.