Will we mourn HEA subject centres?

HEA doesn’t need subject centres, advocates argue, but critics disagree. Jack Grove reports

The Higher Education Academy’s plan to scrap its teaching support centres sparked an outcry when it was announced last autumn.

More than 1,000 people signed a petition calling for the body’s chief executive, Craig Mahoney, to reverse the decision to shut the 24 subject centres, while MPs raised their plight in the House of Commons. Others registered their concern in the press, including a letter of protest to Times Higher Education in November signed by 180 academics.

But despite the unease, the shake-up has continued apace.

Roaming discipline and subject leads have now started to replace the centres, which will be phased out by the end of the year. The overhaul will result in the loss of the equivalent of 130 full-time posts, with the HEA’s workforce falling to about 120, of which 80 are “academically focused”.

The question now is whether the streamlined HEA will have enough staff and the right structures in place to fulfil its remit of helping academics to improve as teachers.

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Disciplinary tribalism ‘is stifling creativity’ @timeshighered

One thing I did gain from being involved in the creation of CIDRA (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts) was a real enthusiasm for breaking the disciplinary boundaries – and as someone who has taught across a number of subjects (most noticeably History and Media Studies, but also Digital specialisms, American Studies…) this is an article of concern:

Are students being short-changed by a narrow approach to learning? Matthew Reisz reports

Although the division of knowledge into discrete, and often tightly policed, disciplinary blocks may be effective in creating “academic tribes and territories”, it often fails to serve the needs of students and society, a scholar has argued.

Gill Nicholls, deputy vice-chancellor (academic development) at the University of Surrey, discussed “the changing nature of disciplines and scholarship” at the recent International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities, in Granada, Spain.

In what she described as “a provocative paper meant to stimulate discussion”, she explored the implication of the power that individual disciplines have on teaching, learning and pedagogy.

In today’s university, she argued, “academics are deluged by vast quantities of new information. To avoid drowning, and to attain some kind of security, (they) seek to come ashore…on ever-smaller islands of learning and enquiry.”

Yet “the problems of society do not come in discipline-shaped blocks” and it is all too easy to find recent examples of “the dangerous, sometimes fatal narrowness of policies recommended by those (who claim to) possess expert knowledge”.

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