Belfast AUT Newsletter Issue no. 2- February 2003
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General Meeting

1 p.m. Wednesday 5 March (Not as on the wallplanner)
in the Canada Room, Lanyon West

Discussion of the White Paper on Higher Education

Lead Speaker: Alan Carr, National Executive



  1. Introduction by Alan Carr
  2. General Discussion
  3. Business for AUT Council


This will be your main opportunity to hear the views of others and to feed into the response to be made by AUT. Briefing material on the White Paper are available on the national website: If you cannot get to the meeting you can also fill up a questionnaire on the website


go to topcontents go to previous sectionprevious go to next sectionnext White Paper Nuggets

The White Paper and its accompanying ministerial statements contained many interesting views. As you will see, not all these nuggets are gold.

Charles Clark - statement to Commons, 22/01/03; "Let there be no mistake. All Universities will, in future, be judged by their teaching achievement as much as by their research attainment. The days of great research accompanied by shoddy teaching are gone." "Let's not pretend that all universities are somehow the same. Let's tell the truth to the people of this country who pay for Universities and want their children to benefit from them. We already have a multi-tiered University system."

White Paper p 47: "We will ensure that the views of students themselves are published in a national survey available for the first time in Autumn 2003, which will explicitly cover teaching quality."

Page 48: "Institutions will be expected to publish summaries of external examiner's reports - which offer clear external judgements about the quality of courses and the standards of students' work - from 2004."

White paper p 50: "In order that teaching in higher education is treated seriously as a profession in its own right, and that teachers are given the skills they need, we expect that national professional standards will be agreed by 2004-5, through the new teaching quality academy." "Once the standards are in place and command confidence across the sector we will expect all new teaching staff to obtain a teaching qualification which meets the standards from 2006."

White Paper p 54: "It is clear that good scholarship, in the sense of remaining aware of the latest research and thinking within a subject, is essential for good teaching, but not that it is necessary to be active in cutting-edge research to be an excellent teacher." "A report in the mid 90s looked at 58 studies which contained ratings of both research and teaching, and found no relationship between the two."

White Paper p 55: "We propose to change the system, so that the University title is awarded on the basis of taught degree awarding powers, student numbers and the range of subjects offered."

White Paper p 30: "The revised research assessment exercise to be introduced, probably in 2008-9, is therefore likely to grade broader subject groupings than before and also recognise centres of excellence." "However, ...we believe that there is a case for more discrimination between the best before then. In the last RAE 55% of research active staff were in departments rated 5 or 5*. We will ask HEFCE, using the results of the latest Research Assessment Exercise, along with international peer review of additional material, to identify the very best of the 5*departments which have a critical mass of researchers a - "6*" - and will provide additional resources to give them an uplift in funding over the next three years."

go to topcontents go to previous sectionprevious go to next sectionnext Local Reactions

The V-C of UU criticised the White Paper because it did not adequately address student maintenance and the fear of debt. He spoke of students working as much as 30 hours per week in order to cap the level of their student debt. He also said, "Where the proposed policy fails, is that it does not ask society to pay its fair share for what it gains from the sacrifice and dedication of each successful student." "If in developing a scheme for Northern Ireland, we do not remedy the deterrents to wider participation, then many middle class students as well as working class students may be squeezed out of higher education."

In contrast Sir George Bain put out a news release welcoming the proposals and saying that it was critically important that Northern Ireland followed suit in addressing the serious underfunding of universities. Sir George said: "Queen's is a national institution competing at a global level. Its position as one of the top 20 universities in the United Kingdom will be threatened if it is not funded on the same basis as its competitors. QUB was "completely committed to ensuring its courses are open to all who can benefit from them, regardless of background." "Access to quality is a core aspect of Queen's mission. Northern Ireland students from poorer backgrounds would be seriously disadvantaged if they did not have the option of attending a world-class research and teaching university in their home region." He hoped that implementation of the key measures in N.I. would not be unduly delayed. "Universities here cannot be left dangling while competitors plan ahead with certainty."

QUB management have also issued a briefing document to members of Senate. It gives background information such as that at present 40% of our students pay full fees, 40% pay no fees and the remainder pay partial fees. It also says, "As a first division UK university, Queen's will have to consider its position on the level of fees if differentiated fees are introduced in Northern Ireland. If differentiated fees are the only viable way of generating the income Queen's needs to compete nationally and internationally, it would have to consider this option seriously." The regional benefits of research are also stressed and the briefing says: "New research funding models are being examined by the Government. It is important that resources are allocated on the basis of research quality. But the government must also recognise the importance of world-class research for regional development. A model which focuses money on the 'golden triangle' in southern England is not in the best interests of the UK." QUB management intend to make a response to the White Paper and are to discuss it at their upcoming retreat. It is not clear if anybody else e.g. Academic Council, will have an input. The current management view is that they wish to generally charge maximum top-up fees, if permitted, and lower fees would only be charged for a few specific courses.

Local politicians have had little to say on the subject, except to oppose top-up fees. So too, do the Scottish politicians. But they have tax-raising powers which could be used to provide

Scottish universities with income equivalent to top-up fees, so that these could remain competitive. Recent events must raise the question whether local politicians have either the means or the desire to keep QUB internationally competitive.

Jane Kennedy denied a student claim that she had promised that top-up fees would not be introduced while the Assembly is suspended. However the Direct Rule ministers are presently marking time until they see whether there will be a devolved administration soon. AUT is meeting with the officials of DEL on 14 March and will be pressing for decisions not to be delayed.

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A Teaching Academy

Just when I have got myself elected to the Council of ILT, the Times Higher announced 'Teaching academy could doom ILT'. Like Mark Twain, its death is greatly exaggerated. There is a brief reference to a teaching quality academy in the White Paper, but the full details of the proposals can be found on

Officially the recommendations are the report of the Teaching Quality Enhancement Committee. Effectively, the report was written by Universities UK for the English funding council. Half of the committee that wrote it were Vice-Chancellors and the rest were Pro-Vice-Chancellors and senior officials from the HE teaching quality industry. Whatever admirable qualities these people have, they do not include recent practical experience of teaching today's students under today's impoverished conditions. The result was a completely top-down view of teaching in which the role of the teaching hands is to deliver teaching of the type that the Government wants with whatever resources the Government provides. As I understand it, the draft report was toned down at the last moment to remove some of the more blatant statements of this attitude. However, others remain and the document is full of inconsistencies. It would also fail any test of good English.

At the moment there are three bodies with some role in the quality enhancement of HE teaching: ILTHE, LTSN and HESDA. The Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE) is a membership based body. Its role is to enhance the standing of teaching and learning by developing a professional group of teachers who have demonstrated their teaching skills and are willing to update them. It also accredits most initial training courses taken by new lecturers. Although it had start-up money, it is now almost self supporting on members' subscriptions. Most of its output is restricted to its members. It encourages research into general aspects of how students learn. The Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) is concerned with subject specific aspects of teaching. It has subject centres in various universities and disseminates good practice free to anyone who is interested. It is funded by subscriptions by institutions. So too is the Higher Education Staff Development Agency (HESDA). This is concerned with the training of all types of staff (including management), not just those involved in teaching and teaching support.

The proposal is that these three bodies be merged to form the Teaching Academy. It is difficult to see how the HESDA responsibility for training other staff fits into a Teaching Academy, but merger/co-operation on all aspect of teaching enhancement would be welcome. The problem is that the V-C's have proposed a top-down organisation "responding to continuing pressures to demonstrate efficiency and to maximise the return on investments, and the use of resources." Many of us believe that what is needed is an organisation concerned with the standards of teaching and the resources needed for it. The ILTHE Council has taken the view that the objectives of a merged body need to be different to those in the report and, in particular, that the new governing body should have a majority of elected practitioners. In this they are supported by the preliminary views of AUT and NATFHE.

Negotiations will take place between the three bodies as to the final structure. ILTHE cannot merge into the Academy without the approval of its 14,000 members; this requires a three-quarters majority of those voting. The present proposals are unlikely to get that, so the ILTHE is in a strong bargaining position to get changes made to the proposals. ILTHE members are being invited to give preliminary views, but they should withhold any blessing until they see the final proposals.

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Finding the Next V-C

Sir George Bain retires on 31 July 2004, and the process of finding his replacement has begun. A job specification will be drawn up soon, and the job will be advertised in the spring. A search committee will encourage possible applicants and will provide applicants with further information. QUB will also employ a firm of executive search consultants at great expense.

The selection committee is completely separate from the search committee. It will start shortlisting in November and hopes to announce the appointment in February. The members of the committees will be selected by the two Pro-Chancellors with the usual regards to balance, and the composition of the two committees is:

Selection committee: Senior Pro-Chancellor (Mrs Brenda McLaughlin), 3 lay Senators, President of the Student Union, a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, 2 members of Academic Council.

Search committee: Second Pro-Chancellor (Dr Chris Gibson), a lay Senator, a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, 2 members of Academic Council, 2 senior members of the Academic Support Sector.

Members of Academic Council have been asked to express an interest in serving on either committee. These will be virtually the only input that QUB staff have to this vital appointment at this critical time for Queen's. Belfast AUT believe that the staff have much useful advice to offer on the nature of this appointment and the direction in which Queen's should develop. To this end we will soon send members a questionnaire about the characteristics and policies they would like the next V-C to have. To avoid the charge that AUT members are in some way atypical, we are making this questionnaire available to all staff on the web. Please treat the questionnaire seriously and be realistic - QUB has never employed either Super-man or Wonder Woman. Your comments will be particularly welcome, but please do not make remarks about possible individual candidates. (You may make suggestions about suitable candidates to the search committee.)

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Do You Recognise Yourself?

Microsoft network's career advisory service has just listed university teaching as no. 8 in its list of the world's top ten most healthy careers (slipped in between Personal Trainer at 7th and Running Coach at 9th.)

The citation explains that we: "Teach two or three classes each semester and work on scholarly articles and books." and goes on to explain: "Why it's healthy: With flexible schedules and opportunities for time off, including sabbaticals, professors have ample opportunity to craft a healthy lifestyle while pursuing intellectual stimulation."

Paul D Hudson

© 2003 Belfast Association of University Teachers
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