Willetts urges HE to renew focus on teaching

21 Oct 13
UK universities have become too focused on research at the expense of teaching, according to higher education minister David Willetts.

In a pamphlet published by the Social Market Foundation today, Willetts called for a ‘cultural change back towards teaching’ in British universities.

The pamphlet, Robbins revisited, examined higher education policy in the 50 years since Lord Robbins’ Higher education report was published. Robbins’ conclusions, published in 1963, paved the way for the expansion of HE in the UK.

Willetts noted that the teaching-research split at pre-Robbins universities was 55:45, but this had now shifted to 40:60, leading to ‘lop-sided’ system.

He said the new HE funding system would be crucial to unlocking a renewed focus on teaching quality.

The government planned to consult with the HE sector about publishing breakdowns of teaching, discussion and feedback time, said Willetts. This would ‘make good teaching visible’ and ‘allow students and parents to judge courses by the sort of teaching they value’, he said.

Commenting on Willetts’ conclusions, SMF director Emran Mian said: ‘Expansion and the competition for students that can come with it also have the potential to drive up the quality of teaching, but more needs to be done.

‘The cap on fees has resulted in universities charging roughly the same levels, with no discernible variation for standards of education provided. That’s why providing better information to students and parents about teaching quality would be a first step in the right direction.’


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