Should teaching excellence bring individual rewards?

Excellent teaching for students is at least partly down to excellent teachers.

And there are about 900 UK academics who have judged by peers to be first-rate teachers. They carry the title “National Teaching Fellow”. AdvanceHE – the body that administers National Teaching Fellowships states that the scheme “celebrates and recognises individuals who have made an outstanding impact on student outcomes and the teaching profession in higher education”. When I became a National Teaching Fellow (NTF), I was very fortunate that this came with a £10,000 of funding towards teaching-related development.

As austerity bit, funding for NTF awards dropped – first to a still useful £5,000 per successful academic. However, in 2019 the funding available for successful NTFs stands at zero. So have institutions picked up the gauntlet to offer funding to their successful candidates?

Some providers provide

During 2019 my own HEI (Gloucestershire) confirmed it would provide £5,000 of development funding for any colleague who became a NTF. But to what extent have universities and colleges across the board substituted their own funds for the central loss and – in policy terms – what is the rationale for doing so?

Much modern public policy is built around responding to price signals. For example, UK farmers have typically undertaken environmentally-friendly practices in response to financial inducements to do so. Similarly, individual academics are more likely to prioritise teaching of students if there’s something tangible in it for them. Recognition in title is welcome, but not likely to change individual work priorities.

In purely economic terms, tuition fees from students generate the lifeblood of university funds. Universities UK quoted teaching income for 2011–12 at 35 per cent of universities’ income, whilst research generated just 16 per cent.

Then there’s an issue of inter-generational equity: if it was right and good in 2007 and before, to fund peer-identified excellent lecturers, then why not now? Especially given the policy backing for investing in excellent teaching to support TEF submissions, and the value of good National Student Survey results in recruitment. And what about the current uneven policy whereby universities may give payments to staff publishing papers in 4* journals; but not as a financial reward for excellent teaching?

A policy priority typically requires a programme (with money attached) as a delivery arm . So a policy aim to see a certain percentage of UK smokers giving up, but this outcome requires funding – for nicotine patches and aversion treatments – to enable the policy to be enacted. Similarly if we – as society, stakeholders, parents, students and graduates – want excellent teaching in higher education, then where is the financial encouragement for increasing and securing that quality?

Which providers?

I posed this question on the Jisc NTF electronic forum – to about 600+ members – and garnered replies from some 30 NTF colleagues at English, Welsh and Scottish institutions. So my findings are illustrative.

First the good news. Aston, Edge Hill, Huddersfield, Leeds, Manchester, Reading, Warwick and Worcester universities did, and apparently still do, offer £5K to their successful NTFs. One university in the south of England offered £2,500 per NTF in 2018. One fellow reported that their University (Birmingham) awarded a salary increment, rather than a one-off payment. And the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London, offers £1,000 per NTF. The University of Bath have allocated £5k to their new NTFs.

Now the bad news: according to self-reporting NTF colleagues the following universities offer nothing- Cardiff, Chichester, Hertfordshire, Leeds Beckett, Liverpool John Moores, London Metropolitan, London, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford Brookes, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Roehampton, Sheffield, South Wales, Sussex and Winchester. We are very keen to ensure equality of experience for students, so why not for staff? In policy terms such insecurity and arbitrariness cannot be right or even advisable: Why should, as an example, a 2019 NTF winner from Reading receive a reward of £5,000, whilst one from Roehampton University gets nothing?

“There was no recognition or celebration at departmental level. There were no financial rewards, no promotion or progression, no elevated status, no new doors opened, and no respect.” – Comment from a 2018 NTF

A mixed picture

So what does this amount to? A partial, and mixed, picture at the best. Bravo to those flagship HEIs making up for loss of national funding. But, seemingly the vast majority of universities and colleges do not follow-through policies with financial reward for their finest teachers. So my closing message is “by their fruits ye shall know them”. Put differently, policies and statements are good in setting a strategic direction, but incentives and support are equally important.

I have been struck by the number of colleagues who have asked me not to name them and/ or their institution. Facing silence from the vast majority of universities, I interpret the lack of response signifying nothing to report/ no institutional support for their teaching fellows.

I end with the plaintive cry from one new NTF, who “would really appreciate any financial support” from their institution.

Please note that if I have inadvertently misunderstood the position at a specific provider regarding NTF support, then my apology. I have endeavoured to accurately relay colleague inputs and at the same time respect anonymity (when asked).

5 responses to “Should teaching excellence bring individual rewards?

  1. I was em… “encouraged” to put in NTF applications by my institution. I had to tread a fine line of doing enough so it looked like I was on board but not enough to get it.

    From my perspective unless it provides a reward in terms of salary or was truly useful for progression it would be just more hassle internally – I know talking to other people they feel the same.

    (Leaving aside that the feeling i have always got is that it is a bit of a racket and you need to be in the clique and blow a lot of smoke up the *** of various people – its just not for me)

  2. I work in an institution (listed above) which has produced promotion criteria for the position of Professor (Teaching and Learning) that explicitly states you have to have to be an NTF in order to be considered. I hasten to say we have no Professors of Teaching and Learning!

  3. This practice reinforces the notion of the ‘enterprising self’ – see Rose, N. Thus perpetuating the atomised individual as the location of agency – as such it is a deeply unreflective practice, especially as it feeds from and into other dominant narratives that deny other forms of agency.

  4. Smiths 1 and 2 – you very much seem to reinforce my message that re NTFs/ teaching excellence, “when all is said and done, there’s a lot more said thank done”!

    Richard, I do take your point and in fact much/ most of my teaching and learning is built around community development principles e.g. partnership work, cross-disciplinary, inclusive etc.

  5. I work at an institution where professors get financial kick-backs annually. Where every individual department has more research professors than the institution as a whole has teaching professors. This is a Post92 who repeatedly argue that NSS tables are the most important metric for our league table positions, and who argue that they value teaching. It is their central argument when recruiting students and promoting themselves to the outside world. However, recruitment policy is almost entirely driven by the REF and the decisions of the Deputy Vice Chancellor for research. In response to trying to “fiddle” the REF metrics some colleagues have even been pushed (somewhat forcibly) onto teaching contracts. The only criteria for this was their research output (whether they were good educators or not wasn’t even considered) as such, that contract has now viewed as a downgrade, and those on it have been viewed as second-tier academics. We haven’t even nominated anyone for NTFS in the past 5 years. This is an interesting article, but to be honest, whether an NTF gets extra funding or not is really a first world problem when we look at staff equality in HE.

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