Professional development for teaching in higher education

On 5 December 2016 HEFCE published the 2014-15 HESA teaching qualifications data for English higher education institutions. This provides an opportunity to reflect on how far the sector has come in its support for initial and continuing professional development (CPD) for those who teach and support learning.

When I began my academic development career 20 years ago, professional development programmes for staff teaching in higher education were in their naissance, with just a small number of institutions offering credit-bearing Postgraduate Certificates and CPD only available in-house. Over time, a broad range of complementary, external opportunities arose through programmes such as HEFCE’s Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning, the Institute for Learning and Teaching and the Learning and Teaching Supporting Network (the latter two now subsumed into the Higher Education Academy (HEA)).

Since 2000, the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme has established nearly 700 National Teaching Fellows, from more than 40 discipline areas. In 2004 the UK Professional Standards Framework provided a nationally benchmarked framework against which experienced staff could have their professionalism in teaching recognised without having to participate in a formal taught programme. Currently, both the HEA and the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) offer institutions accreditation against the framework.

Today, most higher education institutions provide formal development opportunities for staff new to teaching in higher education, and CPD activities including workshops, networks, innovation and development funding, support for pedagogic research, conferences and publications. National and international networks and an expanding evidence base support the professionalism of the educational developers who enable such activities.

The last 20 years of enhancement have been evolutionary, not revolutionary. Theoretical foundations and ways of working are well established and show consistency across the sector; for example, the HESA teaching qualifications data indicates that the majority of staff who have a qualification hold either an HEA Fellowship or a PGCert.

The rationale for publishing the HESA data relates to the provision of information to students. However, we need to ensure that the collection and publication of data do not stifle innovation in how staff are prepared and supported to teach in higher education.

I see an opportunity for revolution in professional development for teaching in higher education. With institutional commitment to high-quality teaching well established and development programmes commonplace, the sector should take this opportunity to be creative, to innovate, to find ways to encourage and enable professional development bespoke to the higher education context (in all its diverse forms).

The development of an ‘Academic Professional’ Degree Apprenticeship standard may be one new approach, but there may be others. The HESA ACTCHQUAL categories shouldn’t be driving the development of teaching qualifications; innovation in educational development should be informing the categories, and HEFCE is keen to work with partners across the sector to explore what these might be.

The HESA teaching qualifications data for English higher education institutions tells us what we already know about the good range of provision for CPD across the sector.

Of course, the picture isn’t rosy everywhere. Research is a high priority for many institutions and staff, and there may still be reluctance among some colleagues to find time for teaching-related CPD activities.

Overall, however, the UK higher education sector has a positive story to tell in terms of its commitment to the development of staff and of learning and teaching. The publication of the HESA data should be an opportunity for reflection, celebration and, I very much hope, innovation.

Dr Helen King has recently joined HEFCE as a Senior Higher Education Policy Advisor for Learning and Teaching Development. She holds a number of professional ‘qualifications’ including Fellowship of the HEA, a National Teaching Fellowship and Senior Fellowship of the Staff and Educational Development Association.