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THE Teaching Survey 2017: pedagogy a scholarly priority- beyond bureaucracy, too little preparation and recognition

Times Higher Education (THE) have published the results of their Teaching Survey, conducted in the course of 2016 with some 1 150 university staff in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Europe and Asia, which looks into their views on ups and downs of their teaching experience in academia. Most of the respondents are academic staff (90%) and most come from UK institutions (85%).

The main results show that, despite finding pleasure in teaching, more than half of the academics state that they do not have enough time to prepare for teaching tasks, and more than 70% find that there is too much bureaucracy related to teaching at their institution. While around half find students insufficiently prepared for lectures and although they tend to be opposed to the growing class sizes, more than three quarters report student engagement in the classroom. Opinions vary as to the overall motivation of students, some even saying that students study only to pass exams and not to study the subject matter, and that cheating is not at all uncommon in the academic setting – although some find that ‘the punishment does not fit the crime’ as students easily get away with plagiarism. When it comes to international students, language proficiency – although contested by some lecturers – does not seem to pose a grave problem to teaching. 

Despite the stated lack of preparation time for teaching, survey results indicate that slightly more than half (51%) of respondents spend more time on teaching than on research and administration, and that 39% of academic staff are of opinion that teaching is the most important role of a scholar as opposed to 24% who disagree with this statement.  However, more than half of academics agree or strongly agree that research is valued more than teaching at their institution. At the same time, as much as 83% of academic staff says that they base their teaching on their research. Despite the intended coupling of teaching and research, only 34% of academics and 37% of administrators think that good teaching leads to the acknowledgement by the institution in the form of promotion and some even argue that this possibility is becoming ever weaker.

What remains the enigma as usual is how to judge what good teaching is and, according to the survey respondents from the UK, neither the National Student Survey (NSS) nor the pending Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) can offer a proper solution. The NSS is endorsed by a very small share of respondents (7% of academics and 10% of administrators) and even less approval comes for the TEF - only 4% and 6% of academics and administrators respectively believe that TEF will accurately evaluate the quality of teaching. Teacher training, as one of the discussed criteria for TEF, is met with varying degrees of support – while a group of respondents (among whom 70% do hold a specific teaching qualification) approves of it as a TEF criterion, others challenge the quality of teacher training offered and argue for the ‘learning by teaching’ approach. 

THE Teaching Survey 2017 results