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ESF calls for improvements to higher education teaching

Academics need more training to be better teachers, says a position paper published today (23 January) by the European Science Foundation (ESF).

The paper argues that good quality higher education is becoming increasingly important as states in Europe work to establish economies based on knowledge. It adds that traditional teaching methods, like lecturing students who listen passively on narrow subject areas, need to be replaced by more effective approaches.

“Academics in Europe are not as prepared for their teaching careers as they are for their research,” the paper states.

While some countries in Europe have begun to take steps to improve their education programmes and train academics to be better teachers, others are lagging behind, the paper says. As a result, many European academics continue to use the lecture approach that they experienced as students.

“Excellent teachers are made, not born. Leaving teachers to learn from trial and error is a waste of time, effort and university resources,” the paper states. “Staff involved in teaching and supporting student learning should be qualified, supported and adequately resourced for that role.”

Among the paper’s recommendations are that professional standards should be defined for higher education teachers and that teachers’ performance should be monitored and constructive feedback should be given. Good teaching should be valued in hiring decisions, and institutions should offer voluntary programmes that encourage teachers’ development, the ESF states.

The paper also suggests that research on teaching be accepted as a research activity that should receive adequate funding, and that a forum be established to share knowledge about improving teaching across Europe.

The position paper was prepared by the ESF’s standing committee for the social sciences, which is chaired by Roderick Floud, an economic historian and provost of the UK’s Gresham College. Floud said: “As one of the main outlets for research, not just for social science but for science in general, higher education is one of the most important routes along which research directly impacts daily life.”

The position paper is the outcome of an ESF workshop, The Impact of Training for Teachers in Higher Education, which was held in March 2010 in Bratislava.