Education Development and Leadership in Higher Education: Developing an Effective Institutional Strategy

By Kym Fraser | Go to book overview

11

Towards a profession of tertiary teaching: academic attitudes in Australia

Yoni Ryan, Kym Fraser and John Dearn

From an historical perspective, interest in the quality of university teaching by government, university management and the public, as evidenced, for example, in the West Report in Australia (1998), and the Dearing Report in the UK (1997), is not surprising.

Until the late nineteenth century, teaching was conceived of as the major function of the university, but the export of 'the German model' of research and teaching (Coaldrake and Stedman 1999) to the UK and the USA led to research being seen as the sine qua non of a university. From the twentieth century a university's reputation was determined largely by its research profile in 'traditional' disciplinary areas, resulting in the emergence of a university 'elite': in Australia, 'the Group of Eight' (Go8), in the UK, the 'Russell Group'.

By the latter half of the twentieth century, research success as measured by publications and grants had become the primary determinant of promotion and success for academic staff, at least from the perspective of staff themselves. Almost every analysis of staff perceptions towards research and teaching duties in universities attests to this perception (Ramsden et al. 1995; McInnes 1999). The research dimension of the academic role has become dominant over the teaching dimension, entry to the profession being determined by a specialised and high-level entry qualification (the masters, and preferably the PhD) in a disciplinary area, ongoing professional development in the discipline (conference attendance), and scrutiny by one's peers (through the process of peer review of publications).

However, the advent of mass participation in higher education in the developed world in the 1960s and more dramatically again in the 1980s and 1990s, shifted the actual activities of academics towards teaching in all but a small number of these elite institutions. Large numbers 1 of students not only put immense pressure on a system (the lecture/ laboratory/tutorial

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