Tuesday, August 3, 1999 Published at 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Academics 'ill-prepared' for teaching students
Research excellence is no guarantee of teaching ability
Postgraduate students are often ill-prepared to take on teaching duties in universities, according to a new report.
The report by a working party of the UK Council for Graduate Education recommends that postgraduates should have preparation for teaching built into their research studies.
"If teaching is to be acknowledged as having comparable importance to research in university life, then the development of teaching skills must be given comparable status to research skills," it says.
"Over time this process could begin to change the culture of higher education and the value placed on both activities."
The report says that Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) schemes are often being used to meet institutions' pressing needs, rather than being a considered approach to what the postgraduates need to know to teach effectively.
There tends to be a focus on the teaching loads facing universities or the need to acquire funding for research students.
The report says this often means insufficient consideration is given to the appropriate use of an assistant's time, and to what support and training they should have.
Many universities specify that a full-time student should do no more than six hours teaching per week - but the report says there is confusion about whether this includes preparation and marking time.
Contracts and pay for postgraduates employed to teach often present problems. Those employed to teach only a few hours can be considered too 'casual' to merit a contract of any kind.
There are nationally-agreed pay scales for part-time staff at the 'new' (post-1992) universities, but the report says is not clear how this is applied to particular teaching duties. And in the older universities there is no national scale.
In the United States, GTAs tend to get preparation in teaching skills prior to full-time employment in higher education - usually while they are working on their postgraduate degree.
Even so, budgets for the training range from $304,000 - to nothing at all in half of those surveyed.
The report says the recently-launched Preparing Future Faculty programme, organised by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools, with charitable funding, is an excellent model.
The UK Council for Graduate Education report says postgraduates with teaching responsibilities must have appropriate preparation for teaching, integrated into the research students' study programmes.
It recommends that every department appoint a mentor to offer them guidance and support.
And it says assistants should not be doing any form of assessment that has a bearing on students' degrees without a member of staff also being involved.
The report calls for "appropriate bodies" to develop a code of practice on a contract of employment for GTAs.