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Thur 4th Aug 2011: First or Fail: National Teaching Fellowships and US Pell grants August 4, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education.
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First or Fail: National Teaching Fellowships and US Pell grants


Up for debate this week, Aaron Porter is celebrating best practice and innovation v internal competition and mourning the potential loss of Pell grants for poorer students in the US

graduation mortarboards

There should be more recognition for inspirational teaching. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Aaron Porter gives his verdict on who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail).

Heading for a first: Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellows 2011

There has been a lot of debate about the status of teaching in higher education. In far too many institutions, it comes a poor second to research, and even sometimes a lowly third behind administrative capability. While I disagreed with the ideology behind his report, Lord Browne was right to point out that there are currently lots of sharp incentives for institutions to focus on research, but very few for teaching. However my solution would be different to that put forward by Browne, and endorsed by the coalition. Rather than focusing on market forces and competition, which essentially set institutions, departments and staff in opposition with one another, I would like to see good practice and innovation rewarded on its own terms.

The National Teaching Fellowships organised by the Higher Education Academy is a perfect example of how good practice and innovation in teaching should be rewarded, rather than seeking to focus on the reductive unintended consequences of the market.

This week after submissions from staff were judged, the Academy announced 55 staff from across England, Wales and Northern Ireland who have been recognised for their excellence in teaching and support for learning. At a time when there is now more focus on teaching, it is great to see some of higher education’s fantastic staff rewarded for their contribution to the sector. I have no doubts that the list of 55 names recognised by the HEA will be full of staff who inspire and challenge students, change their lives and make going to university a pleasure and not a chore.

I’m still convinced that best practice and inspirational teachers should be recognised and rewarded through schemes like the National Teaching Fellowships and Student-led Teaching Awards, rather than boiled down to narrow metrics as an incentive to chase AAB students round the system.

Here is the list of the 2011 Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellows.

Heading for a fail: Poorest students in the US

While recent international headlines have focused on the stand-off between Democrats and Republicans in order to agree the new debt ceiling and ensure the US does not default, the implications are far-reaching – and may affect higher education.

In the original budget put forward by Republicans, and fortunately defeated, Pell grants (support for the poorest students in the US) were for the chop. Fortunately the Democrat-negotiated concession which was finally successful managed not only to save current expenditure on Pell grants, but actually to see spending in this area increase – about the only budget line to see an increase in the new spending settlement.

However, given the Republicans have set their sights on cuts in this area, and a new committee has been set up to investigate further budget cuts, support for the poorest students in the US is now under pressure. Given how expensive US universities are, it is vital that the poorest students are given the support they require, and the national government continues to put its hand in its pocket to fund this, no matter how tough things get.