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The right to teach in higher education – a provocation?
University of Bristol.
University of Borås, Faculty of Librarianship, Information, Education and IT.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4005-310X
2018 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Who has the right to teach in higher education? It is a question rarely posed. The way that such a right is understood in compulsory education is largely defined by reference to the possession of a teaching qualification. However, in a higher education (HE) context this question is as much a philosophical as a legal one given its distinctive values and characteristics, including the role of research and academic freedom. The philosophical literature on rights covers a lot of approaches and a demarcation of the right to teach is needed. Following Hohfeld (1919), we suggest that the right to teach should be regarded as a privilege. There is also an ensuing power, for example to place expectations on students (where students are given rights in return, something beyond the scope of this paper). To have the right to teach is to have a privilege to act in a number of situations. The exact scope of actions for a given teacher depend to a large extent on the organization of the educational venture, but potentially the rights include setting a curriculum or interpreting an existing curriculum. It includes deciding on the relative merit of theoretical and methodological perspectives, and the depth and scope of what to include in teaching activities and assessments. It is the right to assess students’ skills and knowledge. It is also the right to set and interpret the literature, and to take a stand on it in front of the students, including criticizing the authors’ claims.

 

Regardless of any other expectations we can place on teachers, a necessary condition for the right to teach is to have the competence to accomplish what is discussed above. It can be argued that this competence is manifest through an ability to reflect critically on the subject matter – this ought to come naturally given the fact that the development of students’ critical thinking is considered one of the most important aspects of higher education. The general rule in higher education, going back to Humboldt, is that the right to teach comes from being a researcher – a rule also enforced in many countries through educational acts, either as the implicit effect of a set of demands or as explicit legal requirements, as in New Zealand. A number of universities have also committed themselves during the last decades by signing Magna Charta Universitatum, which states: “recruitment of teachers, and regulation of their status, must obey the principle that research is inseparable from teaching”. Throughout the centuries, the right to teach has also been based on a formal recognition of research skills. In the medieval university the earliest degrees were the licentiateship (ie licentia docendi), in effect, a teaching licence.  In modern international higher education, a doctorate is the norm, emerging from the German tradition which has become the basis for the elite research university. In addition, teachers are often required to undertake teaching courses specific to HE. In the mainland European tradition, the position of teacher is often confirmed through ‘habilitation’, involving either the production of a second doctoral thesis or achieved cumulatively through high quality publications. Implicit or explicit, through a venia legendi, is a permission to teach a particular subject for life.

 

If accepting the Humboldtian model and the unity of teaching and research, it may be argued that real university level teaching can only be undertaken by those actively engaged in research. This position has been consistently asserted for over one hundred years by thinkers such as Ashby, Eliot, Jaspers, Russell, Truscot, and von Humboldt, encapsulated in the words of Stout (1965:61) who stated that ‘all teaching at the university level should be alive with the spirit of discovery’. The teacher needs to be at the cutting edge of examining knowledge claims rather than simply passing on received wisdom to students, whereas someone not currently engaged in research will only be able to pass on taken-for-granted knowledge claims. Yet possessing a doctorate or habilitation does not automatically mean that a person is currently engaged in research. This implies two issues. First, there is a need to define minimum requirements on research activity that should give the right to teach. Second, there is a need to discuss if the traditional life-long venia legendi is appropriate unless it is supplemented by a demand continuously meet the standards of research or professional activity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018.
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
Teacher Education and Education Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hb:diva-15641OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hb-15641DiVA, id: diva2:1276578
Conference
Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Conference, London, 10-12 September 2018
Available from: 2019-01-08 Created: 2019-01-08 Last updated: 2019-01-15Bibliographically approved

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