At first, the number of lecturers who had attended a teaching course rose fast, but in the last few years, growth has stagnated somewhat. The percentage was 64% in 2019, up from 63% in 2018. A great deal could be gained from lecturers on a temporary contract, in particular, obtaining their teaching qualifications.
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For many lecturers, university teaching qualification training is not something they can easily do on top of their regular duties. Just to give you an idea of how time-consuming the programme is: at Erasmus University, it is estimated that studying for one’s basic teaching qualification (including independent study) involves 80 hours of course work. At Amsterdam VU University, the workload is estimated to be nearly double that: 150 hours. And lecturers working in higher education are already complaining about their very heavy workloads.
Nevertheless, many lecturers do not receive compensation for all the time and effort they put into the courses, we found when we polled the various universities. Lecturers at the Open University, Delft University of Technology and the universities of Twente, Leiden and Tilburg (among other places) are not assigned any hours for their course work.
Maastricht University offers all lecturers who are required to obtain basic teaching qualifications 40 teaching hours to compensate for the classes. After all, the university says, there is a considerable overlap between gaining hands-on experience and the performance of regular teaching duties.
At the University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam VU University and Utrecht University, policies differ from one faculty to the next, and even from one department to the next. Some lecturers are assigned additional hours, while others are not. Even in one single teacher training class, one lecturer may be better compensated for his/her time than another. However, Utrecht University plans to equalise its teacher training programmes commencing next year, thus reducing the differences in workload and compensation.
On the boss’s time
So how do lecturers make time to attend to their course work? At the University of Amsterdam, participants typically manage to do it ‘during their work hours’, a spokesperson said. Open University lecturers are allowed to do it during their work hours, as well. And at Delft University of Technology, too, lecturers are supposed to do their course work ‘on the boss’s time’.
However, this raises the question as to what exactly constitutes ‘work hours’ or ‘on the boss’s time’. After all, a lecturer’s work is generally not restricted to weekdays between 9 and 5. If a lecturer spends her Thursday afternoon working on her teacher training course portfolio rather than marking exams, she will still have to mark those exams in the evening, or on the weekend.
Get the work done
“When it comes down to it, departments often act as though it is the lecturers’ own responsibility,” says Utrecht-based lecturer in Biomedical Sciences Marc van Mil, who also serves on the board of the Comenius Network of formally recognised education reformers. “But you can’t simply tell them to get the work done. They can only do so if you reduce their other duties or assign them more hours.”
Therefore, Van Mil has established a pilot study at his own department at Utrecht UMC for PhD students who would like to obtain their basic university teaching qualification but do not have enough time to do so under their current contracts. If they take part in the pilot study, their contracts may be extended by half a year to allow them to take the course.
“You may ask yourself whether someone who doesn’t have a basic university teaching qualification should be teaching at all,” says Van Mil. “For that reason, make sure that junior lecturers join that training programme at once so that they can do a good job right from the start of their career. There’s nothing wrong with learning on the job, as long as you have a serious training plan in place right from the start and are given enough opportunity to learn from each other.”
Van Mil also says that supervisors who do not assign lecturers designated hours to obtain their teaching qualifications are basically saying that it’s not all that important. “Unfortunately, the university teaching qualification is all too often regarded as an obligation that must be ticked off on a checklist, rather than as an opportunity to allow someone to make the most of their potential.”
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The call for universities to grant their lecturers more hours to obtain their qualifications is not entirely new. In 2016, the Academic Teaching Centres Working Group of the Higher Education Expertise Network (EHON) analysed all BKO programmes taught at Dutch universities. In its report, the working group recommended that lecturers be compensated for their time and effort – something that was not happening ‘at most universities’. A similar call to action was made in 2018, after the Dutch universities had jointly performed a ‘BKO peer review’.
“Some universities and faculties have become more generous,” says EHON chair Jaap Mulder. “So we hope that others will follow suit, and that they, too, will reduce their lecturers’ teaching hours by that many hours.”
In addition, universities and research funders announced last year that they wish to go about ‘showing recognition and appreciation’ differently. They no longer wish to focus purely on academics’ number of publications. In future, more account will be taken in performance appraisals of proper teaching, strong leadership, the impact of studies and (as far as doctors are concerned) high-quality patient care.
Mulder believes this is a step in the right direction. “If there is a higher level of appreciation for teaching careers, lecturers will hopefully receive more time and money to develop in that regard.” Some universities are already working on it. A Tilburg University spokesperson stated that the university was checking whether compensation for the teacher training workload could be incorporated into the ‘recognition and appreciation’ project.
Compensation enshrined in collective agreement?
So shouldn’t compensation for the hours spent working on getting one’s teaching qualification be enshrined in a nationwide agreement? There is no clause to that effect in the current collective agreement for university employees, says Jan Boersma of the FNV trade union. “We have not received a request for compensation before.”
He wonders if making arrangements regarding the allocation of hours is really the answer. “The main thing is that lecturers must be granted enough room in their regular duties to be able to attend a teacher training programme. This means that you can’t assign lecturers a whole heap of classes to teach, because if you do, they’ll have to do it in their own time.”
Boersma feels that the fact that many young lecturers are only given temporary contracts by universities is problematic. “They don’t remain in the university’s employ long enough to obtain their university teaching qualification,” he says.
Sector leader Donald Pechler of another trade union, the Algemene Onderwijsbond (AOb), agrees. “A teacher training programme must be in line with the number of work hours assigned to a lecturer. If you give a lecturer, say, a temporary one-year contract, it is a tall ask.” He, too, feels that employers must assign their employees additional hours to obtain their teaching qualifications.
Both trade union directors suggest that this might make a good subject to be included in the negotiations for the next collective agreement, which will kick off soon.
How is this done at universities of applied sciences?
The collective agreement for employees of universities of applied sciences contains clear arrangements regarding compensation for mandatory training courses. Beginner lecturers at universities of applied sciences are given the opportunity to obtain a ‘basic didactic competence qualification’ at the very least.
Nevertheless, universities of applied sciences are having difficulty attracting new and highly educated lecturers. “It all looks like a great arrangement on paper,” says AOb board member Douwe Dirk van der Zweep. “Lecturers receive full compensation for their teaching qualification programme, both in time and in money, but in actual practice, young lecturers kind of struggle. They have a heavy workload and often they still have to get the hang of teaching. We also lose a lot of lecturers due to the fact that they are offered contracts that don’t offer much security. Many beginner lecturers leave the education sector quite quickly.”