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'Teaching only' contracts- thoughts?

(38 Posts)
90daychallenger Tue 23-Aug-16 14:30:01

Our VC wants to switch current academic staff to the US system of grading so lecturers become assistant profs and senior lecturers and readers become associate profs.

This move would only be for the 'best' academic staff, those with excellent teaching scores and performing above what's required for REF.

The rest of the permanent academic staff who don't make the grade to go onto this new grading system will be shifted onto 'teaching only' contracts. I assume permanent contracts but who knows.

This is just his plan, there's been nothing consulted on yet but I think it's coming very soon and it's got me thinking.

It strikes me that these 'teaching only' contracts will be regarded as a sort of consolation prize for those who don't make the grade in research terms. 'Teaching only' colleagues will, I think, be seen as not 'proper' academics. It does also raise questions about the 'research-led teaching' approach though this seems to be mostly marketing.

However, a 'teaching only' contract sounds really appealing to me. I don't like research, I'm not very good at it, I find writing papers hard and boring, I don't have any particularly good grant ideas and I'm not motivated to get grant money in. OTOH, I really enjoy teaching!

So, do you think universities will adopt the US grading system? And, consequently, do you think there will be more 'teaching only' jobs? If so, what do you think the implications of that will be? Would you take a teaching only contract?

Godstopper Tue 23-Aug-16 14:37:46

I think it is v. worrying for a number of reasons, namely, but not limited to:

1. It will create a divisive culture in dept's, foster resentment, and possibly lead to a less than collaborative, friendly, atmosphere. I wouldn't want to work in such a place.

2. Students should benefit from cutting edge research within the discipline: if someone is not actively engaged in that, then it's hard to see how they will benefit.

3. It will lead to the exploitation of those deemed 'not quite good enough', poorer pay, and increased hours as the teaching load increases.

I enjoy teaching, but I wouldn't be at all happy if that's all I was paid to do. I'm able to bring my on-going research into it a lot of the time, and would lose the ability to do that. :-/

90daychallenger Tue 23-Aug-16 16:02:10

That's really interesting Godstopper, thanks.

I agree it will create a divisive 'them' and 'us' culture in departments.

I hope you don't think I'm being argumentative, I'm really not intending to be but you said Students should benefit from cutting edge research within the discipline: if someone is not actively engaged in that, then it's hard to see how they will benefit . Can I ask what you think about teaching-intensive universities, then, where comparatively not much research is being done? Do you think those students have a worse experience because the lecturers aren't particularly research active? Also, we don't always teach on topics that are central to our research so although we do use cutting-edge research in teaching it very often isn't our own. How do you think it'd be different if it were people on 'teaching only' contracts teaching because surely they'd be doing the same thing we all do now (using cutting edge research from articles rather than our own work)?

Godstopper Tue 23-Aug-16 16:29:51

Bear in mind I'm speaking from within my own discipline (a traditional humanities subject), so not everything I say will be applicable.

To answer .....

1. I think, if the teacher/lecturer is not actively engaged in what they are teaching, then this is a potentially worse experience for students at [i]higher levels[/i] where you get more into the details. For example, I teach on subjects not related to my area at 1st-year level; but at 2nd and 3rd year level, the modules are almost always taught by those members of staff that are research-active within the specific area. This is when subtle points begin to matter, and you can really get into a topic. All things being equal, I do think it's best to have someone teaching who is/has been research-active within the area.

2. I think things would be different in that potentially, students may not be able to engage in the finer-points of the topic. But this depends on how engaged the teacher is! If some do indeed keep abreast of current research into the area, then that's all well-and-good (the only difference in my discipline is that to be research-active, one would then go and write something about it), but I think you're also going to get some who, feeling demotivated, just won't care. And why would you if you were being paid less/not treated as being as good as some colleagues?

All related issues. For me, teaching and research should complement each other for the best possible student experience.

haybott Tue 23-Aug-16 17:47:54

It's not yet clear that the rules for the next REF will favour putting people onto teaching only contracts. (They may have to be included in the REF anyhow but will have no publications to submit.)

Leaving this aside, I think that this is mostly a ploy to push down salaries. Teaching only staff have much lower salaries and it is much harder to get offers from other universities in the teaching only market - although this may change with the TEF.

In my own field those who teach only are much weaker in higher level teaching than those who research - higher level in terms of later in the undergraduate programme and for the upper end of students. It is unusual for somebody who only teaches to teach any course beyond second year. But this is specific to my STEM field - I wouldn't comment about other fields.

TheWindInThePillows Tue 23-Aug-16 18:23:09

I think it will depend on the form of the TEF, as someone else has said. We have always had a big difficulty in our institution, in that everyone agrees we ought to recognize outstanding teaching, but no-one ever does, it certainly isn't the clincher for promotion, it's just taken for granted. The TEF may reconfigure things- at the moment, teaching only is really for short-term less qualified people and it's hard, though not impossible, for them to jump to longer term work or lectureships.

I can see if you are a great teacher, then teaching only might be appealing, but I agree to some extent with those that say at the higher levels, being a researcher is fairly essential- certainly to teach Masters or PhD or even to supervise undergrad dissertations, it helps enormously to be a practicing researcher. As everyone else has said, the problem would be that at the moment, the status of the teaching only contract would not make you very portable, as you would have no/fewer publications, although as I say, the TEF may reframe this.

I have also noticed that excellent researchers are often excellent or at least good enough teachers- the two things are not mutually exclusive. I think it helps to be inspiring when you are passionate about your own research, certainly for helping students conduct their own research. Topic-wise, it's good to have a few specialist topics within more general areas on which you truly know your stuff.

I'm not against teaching only contracts but I don't think they will attain the same status as research/teaching combinations for a while, so right now, no, I wouldn't take one.

TheWindInThePillows Tue 23-Aug-16 18:24:38

And, yes, this is a cost-cutting measure, otherwise why try to have a two track system? Why not just have everyone on the same scale and then let them do what they are best at?

geekaMaxima Tue 23-Aug-16 19:41:43

I agree that active researchers are necessary for the best teaching at higher undergrad and all postgrad teaching. But what's best for students isn't necessarily the same as what's best for the staff who do the teaching.

I've previously worked at a teaching-intensive institution (with research aspirations, but really quite low level of research outputs) and the quality of education wasn't great. There was a lot of out-of-date material being delivered and students graduated with some noticeable gaps in their knowledge and skills and generally weren't well-equipped for postgraduate study. However, the staff who were happy with a teaching-intensive focus thought it was a good place to work - anyone who wanted more research time moved elsewhere.

I've also worked in a research-intensive institution where a proportion of staff had been moved or hired onto teaching-only contracts. It was divisive and not good for morale, as each side squabbled over appropriate workloads (i.e., how much more teaching should teaching-only staff have compared to teaching/research staff?) and the teaching-only staff felt they were viewed as "lesser" because the default was still teaching/research. The teaching-only staff concentrated on 1st and 2nd year teaching, not final year or postgrad, and the quality of education students received was fine. It wasn't a pleasant place to work, though.

I'm currently in a research-intensive institution where all everyone is on teaching/research contracts and everyone actually teaches, from new lecturer to senior prof. Teaching-only contracts are used to provide temporary cover for mat leave, fellowships, etc. and there may or may not be one in any given year. It's not perfect - ideally, even temp cover staff would have teaching/research contracts - but it's the best arrangement I've encountered so far.

So in my experiences, having some staff teaching-only and some teaching/research is the worst combination of approaches. I'd be very wary of the plans you describe for your current institution. If you're fed up with research and want to go teaching-only, it might be better to look at moving to a teaching-only institution instead.

TheWindInThePillows Tue 23-Aug-16 20:34:50

geeka I wonder if you are at the same institution as me, we all have teaching included in our workloads, all professors, right up to senior admin, it's part of the remit of the Vice-Chancellor that everyone is both research active and teaches. As you say, teaching only is usually for short term contracts to cover buy-outs from grants, or maternity leave. It does sound similar (or perhaps lots of research intensive places are similar). I do feel the quality of teaching is pretty high, and students agree, I think being good at research as a department fuels high standards all round somehow.

haybott Tue 23-Aug-16 20:46:01

we all have teaching included in our workloads, all professors

I have never been in a department for which this was not the case (UK and abroad, all very highly ranked institutions). You can partially buy out teaching with research grants but everybody has to teach. It's news to me that professors apparently don't teach much in some departments. Research only positions are found in research institutes, but not in university departments.

Oxbridge has some permanent teaching only staff, mostly based in the Colleges rather than in the departments. These are very much regarded as dead end posts with rather low salaries unless you move into College management positions.

I know that some universities are starting a track to professor equivalent for teaching only appointments but I suspect that very few will make it up to professorial salaries and status.

geekaMaxima Tue 23-Aug-16 21:54:23

It's news to me that professors apparently don't teach much in some departments. Research only positions are found in research institutes, but not in university departments.

I wish. One of my former departments had more than one precious professor who was apparently too important to communicate with undergrads or masters students. Yes, they were allegedly on teaching/research contracts, but a blind eye was turned to the fact that they never did any teaching. They also shirked their admin loads, didn't turn up to meetings, etc. Oh - and they published a lot, which was rather unsurprising given that they had more than twice the research time of any other senior academic.

I'm also aware of another department where a professor handed off all their teaching and course-related admin to a new lecturer who didn't realise she could say no to her head of research group. Again, the professor was meant to be on a teaching/research contract, but was also in charge of teaching allocation and so got away with their "official" workload being a work of fiction.

As it happens, both these situations were in a university that had some staff as teaching-only and some as teaching/research. I can't help but wonder if the institutional mindset that lets professors bully their way into virtual research-only positions is the same mindset that thinks it's a good idea to divide academic staff into teaching/research and teaching-only. Both situations are horrendous for morale and the exact opposite of a collegiate environment.

Deianira Wed 24-Aug-16 12:00:30

These occur often at the early-career stage in my field, but as identified above they lead to a real problem when it comes to moving on, as the next job will require evidence of publications. What this means in practice, therefore, is that you work full-time teaching (or, realistically, more than full-time), and cram research into weekends/evenings/middle of the night, with no support from the institution when it comes to research funds, or attending conferences, or training. I do think therefore that even after the early-career stage, whoever took this kind of job intending just to focus on teaching could risk being very stuck if they changed their mind later, or wanted to move but couldn't find a similarly narrowed role at the same level elsewhere.

I also agree that while often an annoying buzzword, research-led teaching is enormously valuable to students - not least as they often really enjoy seeing how their work relates to actual ongoing research! I would also be concerned with whether at the higher levels eschewing research would make it hard to do things like keep up with the field and advise students on what's new, especially if the staff member on a teaching-focused contract has had their hours/workload adjusted to take account of this, and is now teaching extra, with significantly less time to go off and read!

90daychallenger Thu 25-Aug-16 10:22:32

Thanks for all the input from everyone.

It's really interesting to read your posts and overwhelming negativity towards teaching only contracts.

In my social science department we have a few teaching fellow contracts (i.e. teaching only) which are short-term to cover maternity leave and research buy-out. We also have several (three I think) members of staff who are permanent teaching fellows. They teach at all levels of UG and TPG curricula, supervise dissertation students and take part in PhD reviews (though not PhD supervision). A couple of these permanent teaching fellows are unhappy as they feel 'stuck' but another one is actually very pleased to be relieved of any research pressures.

I haven't actually come across another department in my discipline with permanent teaching fellows like we have.

StepAwayFromTheThesaurus Thu 25-Aug-16 10:31:16

I work in a teaching-focused, post-92 university. The quality of the teaching from the non-research active staff is genuinely much lower than from the research staff (and much lower than the standard in the research intensive universities I've worked at).

The staff just simply do not know the field as well and don't really understand how to equip students with the subject-specific tools they need.

One of my friends just moved from where I am to a very prestigious research-intensive institution. She says that the expectations of teaching quality are much higher where she is and they measure it differently. Where I am they seem to measure it in contact time and getting the students to do something (however unproductive intellectually), whereas where she is now, it's about introducing key ideas and making current research accessible to the students who are then expected to be independent in their studies. So where I am you get told off for expecting the students to read journal articles (too hard for the poor things) and spending 8 weeks getting them to just talk about their own opinions in the absence of any research literature is seen as great teaching because they're 'active'. But the students do not actually learn anything from it.

90daychallenger Thu 25-Aug-16 10:38:36

StepAway That's really interesting. I've always working at research-intensive RG universities. I had no idea it was like this. In some ways, we actually look to teaching-focused universities for teaching inspiration because these universities seem to do 'stuff' with their students much more than we do. People are getting worried about TEF and NSS feedback.

StepAwayFromTheThesaurus Thu 25-Aug-16 10:47:29

I'd believed the teaching-focused hype before I started here too. But honestly from what I've seen, 'activity' is far too often a substitute for intellectual activity.

It's also quite tricky when some of your colleagues don't understand quite basic things and tell the students things that are just outright incorrect. It's hard to rectify that without saying, well X is wrong. It's very difficult when you've got people with no research training of experience teaching a dissertation module and you have to find a politically acceptable way of communicating 'X might have said that but I've got a PhD and years of research experience and actually methodological choices are not just preferences; you need to select the right tools to collect the data you need to answer your research questions no matter how much you fancy doing a questionnaire'. (When you've had to stand in a class and listen to a colleague tell the students it's just personal preference).

90daychallenger Thu 25-Aug-16 11:57:38

StepAway I can see how that's very tough!
As an aside, I think not necessarily requiring a PhD at a teaching-intensive university is a real problem actually. Not that a PhD is definitely a mark of quality (of research or teaching) but I think it shows a very deep immersion in a particular field, research skills and communication skills (i.e. writing a readable thesis, having 9 month reviews, presenting at conferences etc.)

StepAwayFromTheThesaurus Thu 25-Aug-16 12:15:02

Yes. I think it really does matter.

Incidentally, I have T&R contract in name only. The workload model is so ludicrous that the minuscule time allocated to research (half a day a week) is eaten up with the enormous volume of teaching lumped upon us. And my workload is considerably over what it should be (by more than the fictional research time).

This is actually worse than a teaching-only contract as they pile all this pressure on about research performance but give you no time, or support, or resources to do anything.

90daychallenger Thu 25-Aug-16 14:02:51

StepAway God that sounds shit. Half a day a week? So, you're allocated time to read about four papers then?!

I'm at a very high ranking Russell Group and our research time is going down from 40% (which was bullshit anyway) to 30%. Yet, at the same time, we're having heaps of pressure put on us about outputs and grants. Sigh

StepAwayFromTheThesaurus Thu 25-Aug-16 16:50:34

Theoretically I could read 4 papers. But since they only give you one hours prep time for an hour of lecturing, even if it's the first time you've taught a module (and no prep time for seminars at all), those 4 papers will undoubtedly be related to the weird topics that are in no way related to my research expertise that they like to insist I teach. 'Oh Step, I thought you'd like to teach about genocide/advanced calculus/some language you don't even speak/etc'...

We are under less pressure for research than I'd imagine you are. Publishing at all is a good thing. The problem is that the university has set targets which expect those of us with PhDs to churn out stuff for the REF but without any time for that. Or the infrastructure to support it even if there was time.

Indeed, my HoD came up with the idea that we'd all have a set number of modules to teach, but hasn't quite realised that he needs to take into account things like PhD supervision or admin roles. So if you aren't research active and haven't been lumbered with an admin role, then you get the same amount of teaching as someone supervising 6 PhD students and with 2 big admin roles. And, of course, you aren't expected to produce research if you're not research active either. Clearly my HoD has thought this one through. hmm

haybott Thu 25-Aug-16 17:31:35

Many workload models don't include PhD students - as they are considered part of "research". This does not seem fair to me as PhD students also need "teaching" but I wouldn't be able to convince my colleagues of this (not least because I have a lot more PhD students than them).

And of course more generally than this workload is always a difficult issue. I have colleagues who do very little research any more, and don't have PhD students, postdocs, write grants etc. They get the same teaching and admin workload as those of us who have huge numbers of PhD students, postdocs, grants etc (unless we get EU grants which buy us out). Yet any attempts to slightly increase teaching/admin workload for those not doing much research meets howls of protest - people argue that they can be doing good research even if not writing many papers or getting many grants (true) and that everyone can have temporary dips which would be made worse by heavier teaching loads (also true). (But I will admit to resentment about a few colleagues who have been in a research dip for a decade and take most of the summer off but get similar salaries and teaching/admin loads as me.)

Do you really only have one half day per week for research outside term time?

geekaMaxima Thu 25-Aug-16 18:31:08

Oh StepAway - That workload sounds ridiculous! flowers flowers.

I can relate completely with what you said about teaching standards, though. My experience of a teaching-intensive institution was the same - daft levels of spoon-feeding and very low expectations of what students should be capable of doing. And because they only ever got external examiners from similar places, nobody thought there was a problem and genuinely seemed to believe that teaching standards were higher than at research-intensive institutions. confused

StepAwayFromTheThesaurus Thu 25-Aug-16 18:33:09

I have an hourly allocation that works out as 1/2 a day a week. There is no time to use it during term time. I also have teaching and marking (not masters) in July and lots of resit marking in August too. We also have to take leave at some point. I managed to get a whole 2 days of research squeezed into July this year, which is better than last year when stupid decisions by senior management meant we all had to put research aside over the summer and do other things.

We get time in our workload for PhD supervision (it's down as as teaching too). It's just my HoD doesn't seem to have realised that if we're supposed to gave even workloads, you can't just arbitrarily decide that everyone must lead X modules and act as a TA on X modules not least because only the staff you are relying on to publish also have PhD students and lots of people have huge admin roles too. It might be ok if PhD supervision was tied to my own research, but it's nothing like that.

StepAwayFromTheThesaurus Thu 25-Aug-16 18:41:01

YY geeka. There is a real problem that the staff and the EEs chosen have no idea how bad it is. They genuinely think it's high quality teaching. But it is so much poorer. The very low expectations are the worst thing.

The things I used to teach first years at research intensive universities (and my colleagues taught similarly) were more complex and difficult than what I'm allowed to teach our final year students. The students used to really rise to it, but my current students seem to sink even further than the institution's low expectations of them.

It's really not fair on the students, because they don't get the opportunities to challenge their thinking that they should.

haybott Thu 25-Aug-16 19:17:30

In my subject - which is only taught in about 70 institutions, relatively few low ranking universities teach it - there seems to be a correlation between NSS scores and course content. According to NSS the "best" institutions are those which have the least course content (and lowest expectations of students). The "top" institutions according to most other rankings lie mostly in the lower half of the NSS ratings. I agree about using EEs who don't challenge this - personally I could not sign off on the lowest ranked universities courses as being level 4-6 material, when in the first year they are rehashing A level (level 3) and almost none of their material reaches level 6.

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