How university lecturers are chosen

It often comes as a surprise to those outside academia to discover how relatively unimportant teaching ability is considered in many university recruitment decisions. In one institution in which I worked, we took the radical step – resisted by some colleagues – of introducing sample teaching sessions as part of our appointment process.

As the students were leaving, after its first try out, one had a question: “Did you say”, he asked, “this was the first time you’d done this?”

“Yep”, we said.

“So before”, he asked perplexed, “you used to appoint lecturers without checking they could lecture?”

“Yep”, we said.

The cogs turned within his head, and – as if one of life’s great mysteries had finally been solved – he exclaimed: “Ah, well that explains it.”

Philip Cowley, Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London    

This is very true. I cannot recall a single instance of an appointments panel checking if candidates could actually lecture [or considering it when promotion decisions were being made].

Only research mattered. That was not acceptable when higher education was free and students got grants. It is totally unacceptable when there are high fees and and students incur heavy debts.

There is a lot wrong with the UK's higher education sector but no sign that the government is capable of making the necessary reforms.

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