Blog by Renate Klaassen, 4TU.CEE Programme coordinator at TU Delft

The second webinar on “Rewarding and Recognising Teaching Excellence” of the 27th of November, looked at the progress made in collaborative, country-wide changes to university reward systems and the challenges and opportunities associated with national reform.

Nation-wide reform
In a brief introduction Pieter Duisenberg, president of VSNU, stressed the importance of this topic and warmly welcomed the invited speakers to share their different perspectives on nation-wide implementation approaches. Ruth Graham, our host and moderator, explained that each invited speaker would represent a different approach to the nation-wide reform.

The Netherlands offers insights into a bottom-up approach towards a teaching reward framework.  The local initiatives quickly gathered momentum and have been championed across most research universities and support organisations to be carried forward. The Danish universities took the lead in making a national framework, supported by the government. Finally, Malaysia presents a national framework designed at governmental level, which was forwarded as a framework to implement at each university. The speakers of each respective country are Rianne Letschert, Inger Askehave  and Mohd Saleh Jafaar. Rianne Letschert is Rector of the University of Maastricht and co-leader, besides rector Frank Baaijens of Eindhoven University of Technology, of the change initiative on advancing teaching with 14 universities in the Netherlands.  Inger Askehave, is Pro-Rector of Aalborg University and leading the change programme in Denmark and Mohd Saleh Jafaar is Director General at the Ministry of Education and in the lead of the career pathway framework for academic careers in Malaysia.

Rianne Letschert

Need for fundamental change
Rianne Letschert (University of Maastricht) spoke about the collaborative effort of 14 Dutch research-led universities to design and adopt a common framework for academic career pathways across all institutions that started in November 2019. The vision for this change, which incorporates the significant focus on rewarding teaching and learning, is outlined in the position paper, Room for Everyone’s Talent. Leveraging the commitment of multiple organisations, including open science, academic funding and knowledge institutes is necessary. Therefore a broad dialogue in academia nationally and internationally is needed to bring about a fundamental shift in beliefs and cultural values to change towards the recognition of teaching excellence. It is necessary to bring about a change in:

  • Diversifying and vitalising career paths
  • Achieving a balance between individuals and the collective appraisal of talent in academia, including research, teaching and leadership
  • Focusing on the quality of teaching
  • Stimulating open science

Expectations are that sharing ‘good practices’ and experimenting will initiate the desired movement. Eventually, the dialogue should result in a joined framework supported by all the universities and supportive organisations involved.

Inger Askehave

A flexible teaching framework
Inger Askehave (Aalborg University. Denmark) outlined how Denmark is in the process of revising proposals for a new national framework for ademic career pathways and the reward of teaching and learning, which is to be discussed by university leaders from all Danish universities in the coming months. The ambition is a nation-wide framework that will be available by spring 2021, which will allow universities to adapt the framework flexibly. To adapt the framework to their institutional context, it can, for example, include problem-based learning, which is a powerful model in Aalborg requiring different teaching skills. The teaching framework designed by Ruth Graham for the rewarding teaching excellence movement has strongly inspired the Danish teaching framework.

The focus in Denmark is on research, teaching and outreach. The framework should provide guidelines on the assessment and criteria for promotion on career progression, as well as realise support for life-long learning in the form of continuing professional development. Within the teaching part of the framework, the Danes intend to include two domains of action and four levels of proficiency in the didactic domain and colloquial domain. The didactic domain is addressing the execution and evaluation of teaching. The colloquial domain addresses the increased levels of proficiency in the role of co-creator of constructive learning environments and new educational programmes.

Mohd Saleh Jafaar

Fostering excellence in teaching
Mohd Saleh Jaafar (Former DG, Malaysian Ministry for Higher Education) set out how the Malaysian government recently called for all universities to adopt a new unified framework for academic career pathways. The framework, entitled the Differentiated Career Pathways, provides new routes for progression based on teaching and learning. Together with the National Blueprint in 2015, which had the primary aim to deliver excellent graduates, the national teaching framework for differentiating academic career paths have been outlined. With many  institutions of Higher Education, a centralised approach was needed with leeway for local interpretations and a strong emphasis on the importance of teaching for our future graduates. At the same time, teaching and research are and should be very strongly interrelated. Their interconnectedness consolidates the quality of education. However, the Malaysian government also recognises that different people have different talents. Therefore the main pillars of the framework are establishing a talent ecosystem to foster excellence, embracing the changing education landscape by including specialised roles, recognising different attributes of talent excellence and the alignment of talent development to the institutional mission. These pillars led to different profiles with different weights in the respective areas, research, teaching, services, management and leadership. Each is making a balanced contribution to the overall goal of an institution.

Involving younger generations
In the discussion, concerns were raised, such as: “How is the younger generation, who should benefit from this implementation of rewarding teaching excellence, involved?” In the Netherlands and Denmark, involving the younger generations in the discussion on formulating the framework is already realised. E.g. the Young Academy is bringing out a paper* on this topic in the Netherlands. In Malaysia, teacher platforms and national awards for teaching excellence provide younger academics with opportunities to show teaching excellence talents.

Mobility is another topic of concern as many young academics are appointed on temporary contracts and often forced to move around the world. They do not want to run the risk of not being recognised and rewarded on teaching excellence beyond the current institutions and suffer a career setback because of having to move on. The transfer of recognition, between institutes and between knowledge institutes and industry, is likely solved on a national level. In Malaysia for example postdocs are available for people who want to get industry experience, who then later return to academia. Internationally, this will need to grow upon the international academic community but currently this is a bridge too far.

Training PhD’s and postdocs
When we want teachers to shift focus in the future, it will also need a shift in focus on the training of PhDs and postdocs. They should get the opportunity to train for and focus on different career paths and not be required to do it all at the same time. Equally, the early adopters should not suffer un-reasonable setbacks in the system that will make them quit their academic career altogether.

Collective versus individual development
There is the issue of tension between the collective and individual development as the individual advancement should not be dependent on local managers who happen to be favourable towards the movement. Therefore government and institutions should require collective excellence of the universities in all areas and individual excellence based on the talents available.

Comenius discussions
After the webinar a follow-up discussion was organised by the Comenius network in the Netherlands. The most important observations in this discussion are the need for criteria and implementation to meet difficulties, for example with team-teaching, appointment based on change rather than career planning and early talent development options for young academics. The chance of success depends on a systemic change in which academic researchers, human resources, the teachers themselves and young academics are all crucial stakeholders. At the same time, the humans behind the criteria should not be lost out of sight. Nor should the quality of the teaching environment be neglected as ‘good teachers’ are not equivalent to a high quality of education.


*Footnote: (The Dutch Young Academy we will publish a paper on Monday the 30th of November using practical examples on why teaching excellence is essential and how we can put it into practice, using some inspiring examples from current practice in Dutch universities, in which we also focus on personal development plans and allowing diversification of trajectories


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