Your undergraduate experience depends upon the quality of teaching staff - yet universities continue to put research first, argues Gervas Huxley.
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Much as we wish it weren’t so, Christmas shopping really boils down to one simple rule – the more you spend, the more you end up with under your tree.
The same does not seem to apply to our university system. Students are typically taught in tutorials of 15 or more students these days, whilst their parents (if they went to university) studied in classes less than half this size and of course paid no fee.
How can this be fair? For all the talk about market forces and value for money supposedly reshaping our university system, it doesn’t take an Economics lecturer to see there’s something amiss.
And yet when do we ever hear concerns about the quality of teaching? Rarely, if at all.
As it happens I am an Economics lecturer. More specifically, I am a Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol. This means I am paid to teach, and only to teach.
And it's not just the universities – almost any academic you’ll find speaking about our university system in the Houses of Parliament or in a national newspaper will be there because of their research.
I’ve been asked to give evidence at the House of Lords this week on the state of higher education teaching – and invited to write this blog – because of a lecture voted for by my students which appeared online last year. But this is highly unusual.
This lack of emphasis on teaching is one of the major problems facing our higher education system. The quality of education received by undergraduates relies increasingly on what teaching staff like myself have to offer, but far too little is known about our role.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the near-total absence of discussion about class size. If increasing class size was the inevitable consequence of falling funding per student for almost two decades from 1979 until 1998 – when students began to pay fees of £1,000 – shouldn’t students be seeing a benefit from the successive increases in the fee since 1998?
So far there’s been no sign of this happening. It’s time for both Parliament and the public to address the quality of teaching at our universities.
And it’s time that those of us in academia whose main concern is teaching began contributing to this debate.
Gervas Huxley is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol and consults on Higher Education policy.