Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs)

Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs)

The idea of CETLs was born in the recent higher education white paper (www.dfes.gov.uk/highereducation/hestrategy/). At that point it seemed to be entirely conceived as a scheme for reward and recognition of excellence in teaching in h.e. HEFCE seem however to have persuaded the minister that the scheme should involve development activities as well as reward and recognition: the development of new good practices, the enhancement of existing ones, or the extension of good practices from one department to another. The CETLs will thus be complementary to LTSN Subject Centres, which are primarily concerned with the collection and dissemination of knowledge: apart from reward and recognition, the CETLs will be concerned with teaching and learning practice.

A very significant amount of money is attached to the scheme: originally a total of 70 Centres was envisaged funded at the rate of £0.5m p.a. over 5 years, a total of some 1% of HEFCE's overall teaching budget, and apparently new money. However the scheme now seems to envisage a larger number of centres, a least some of them funded at a lower rate. There will also be some capital funding.

As it stands the scheme has been circulated in a HEFCE consultation document (see www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2003/03_36.htm). Replies to the consultation were due in last October, with a view to issuing a call for bids early in the New Year, and a dealine for receipt of applications in April. The timetable is therefore very tight, and any potential bidders would be advised to start laying plans immediately, if they have not already done so. While the scheme may be revised as a result of the consultations, it seems on the whole unlikely that it will change very much, since it is already the product of some serious negotiations between HEFCE and the Minister.

The consultation document envisages two basic types of CETL: intra-institutional, inter-subject (e.g. work-based learning in a group of departments at the University of Poppleton) on the one hand; and inter-institutional, probably intra-subject (e.g. foreign-language teaching at a consortium of the University of Poppleton, Poppleton City College, and UCL) on the other. The emphasis of the document is on the former, as one would expect from the focus on reward and recognition: it is probably easier to reward and recognize excellence within a single institution than in a consortium of institutions. Each institution is to be allowed to make one, two or three intra-institutional bids, depending on its size, and one inter-institutional bid. This last limit seems to relate to leading an inter-institutional bid, as opposed to just taking part in one; otherwise the number of possible inter-institutional bids would, for reasons of mathematical necessity, be very small.

Selection will partly depend on the demonstration of achieved excellence. HEFCE recognize that this is no easy matter, and proposes to leave it to bidders to decide how best to do it. Part of the funding is expected to be spent on rewarding this achievement of excellence. Selection will also be based on the merit of the development activities proposed. These in turn will be assessed not just on their intrinsic merits, but on the extent to which they incorporate the appropriate pedagogical knowledge (the 'scholarship of teaching': familiarity with the pedagogical research relevant to the teaching and learning in question), as well as the pedagogical and resource strengths of the institutional contexts in which they will take place.

How can achieved excellence be demonstrated in an inter-university consortium? Two excellent departments in neighbouring universities, or even one more excellent and one less excellent department, could form an ad hoc association for the purposes of the bid. The consultation document appears to envisage this. On the whole, however, one would expect a more powerful case could be made by an existing consortium, if it could also demonstrate excellence.

Further reading

Implications of the HE White paper, report from our event on 21 May 2003
The formal LTSN Response
White Paper - The Future of Higher Education, full document available on the DfES website
HEFCE consultation document