Higher education is more consumer led than ever before. The new world of high tuition fees and accompanying quality assurance measures has placed the student teaching and learning experience at the top of the HE agenda. Amidst the academic staff traditionally responsible for delivering a high quality teaching and learning experience are the academy’s technicians, a body of staff previously identified as an almost invisible workforce working in higher education.
Technicians as Educators
The technical role has diversified over recent years and technical staff now have many responsibilities in comparison to their predecessors. This diversification is a fantastic opportunity for technical staff to contribute to the sector’s core activities and the majority of today’s technicians are student facing and are experiencing increased student contact time.
Technicians make a substantial contribution to the student teaching & learning experience which should not be underestimated. Technicians teach in practical classes, workshops, research laboratories, IT suites and in the field and a significant number of technical staff deliver lectures, convene modules and undertake assessment of student work.
The technician is increasingly important in ensuring that our students enter the world of work with the appropriate practical skills. After all, whilst it is undoubtedly crucial to know and understand subject theory, what good is that theory unless it can be put into practice?
Technicians & Employability
The demand for highly skilled employees is on the rise and many employers frequently lament the lack of practical skills in today’s graduates. The technical role is essential to ensuring students are equipped with a high level of practical knowledge alongside a strong theoretical background. Technicians offer students the practical knowledge and hands on expertise that employers demand. Formal integration of the technician as part of the teaching team and inclusion of technical staff in curriculum design & employer engagement would undoubtedly bring added value, perhaps through the development of comprehensive practical programmes led by technicians to run alongside theoretical programmes of study.
Historically, technical staff have not been traditionally recognised as “teachers” and, in the past, have seldom been offered the associated professional development opportunities available to our academic & research/postgraduate student colleagues.
This has perhaps been driven by the fact that quality assurance of an institution’s teaching practices does not currently take into account the technicians’ contribution.
However, given the increasing recognition that technicians do indeed teach, it is highly likely that such measures will be expanded to encompass this in future years and that alongside this, there will be an increased investment in teacher training for university technical staff.
Accredited Teacher Training for Technicians & The UKPSF: A Guide for Technicians
Many universities are already beginning to open up in house teacher training opportunities to their technical teams. It is worthwhile checking your university’s staff development pages for their teaching & learning courses as often these will not be specifically targeted at technicians alone.
In addition, as technicians it is useful for us to become acquainted with the UKPSF – the UK Professional Standards Framework.
This is a comprehensive set of professional standards and guidelines for benchmarking good practice in teaching and learning within higher education. It is nationally recognised and was developed by the Higher Education Academy on behalf of the higher education sector. It aims to improve quality and recognise excellence in the teaching and learning experience. It is fully inclusive of technical staff and specifically recognises that technicians teach too!
Many of the in house courses offered by universities are accredited by the Higher Education Academy and therefore align to the UKPSF. On completion of an accredited course, technicians can apply for fellowship of the HEA in line with academic colleagues. Technicians would normally be conferred with the status of Associate Fellow (AFHEA) or Fellow (FHEA) but the scheme does progress to Senior Fellow (SFHEA) or Principal Fellow (PFHEA).
Gaining national recognition for our teaching roles shows a commitment to providing a high standard of higher education to our students and demonstrates that our practice is aligned with the UKPSF.
For a list of HEA accredited courses offered by UK universities see here.
For more information on the UKPSF see here.
The challenge for the HE sector is to ensure continued increased visibility & recognition of the contribution of technical staff and to invest in professionalising & accrediting the technical role. Formal recognition of the technician’s role as an educator, alongside accreditation and investment in teacher training for this staff group will ensure that students in UK universities are receiving technical support of the highest quality to improve their learning experience. By working collectively, technical and academic staff can ensure students are “up-skilled” & able to meet the requirements of the workplace and the wider UK economy.