Metrics That May Work

As the Teaching Excellence Framework shows now signs of going away (, I’ve been thinking about potential metrics again. One thing I’ve been thinking about is whether staff-student ratios are a useful tool to at least give some indication of the importance that an institution puts on teaching.

The difficulty with staff-student ratios is that they do not take into account how much teaching an academic actually does. Thus what I would propose is to use staff-student ratios as an informational tool, but to sub-set which academics can be counted towards the staff-student ratio. My proposal is to only allow academics to be counted if they fulfill the following three criteria:

  • must be on a permanent contract
  • must teach at most 10 hours per week
  • must teach at least 5 hours per week

The reasons I have for these three reasons are the following:

  • If the university is not prepared to commit the resources to support a permanent contract, then clearly they are trying to cut down on cost, regardless of what impact that has on teaching. Also non-permanent contract staff are less likely to be available to student inquiries outside of class, again negatively impacting the students’ experience.
  • 10 hours is what I believe is the maximum number of hours that anybody can teach at an acceptable level of quality. If you have to teach more than 10 hours, then you will start to cut corners at how you teach each session. As a result you are not contributing to the quality of the students’ educational experience and should not be counted.
  • Finally, academics who do not teach at least 5 hours have so little day-to-day contact with students that they are unlikely to have any significant impact on their educational journey. As such they should really not be counted towards the staff-student ratio.

Metrics should encourage change in the way universities teach. A lower staff-student ratio has been shown to positively impact learning and the metric described here will force universities to lower staff-student ratios, but not at the expense of massively loading up individual academics on pure teaching contracts. At the same time it also rewards universities where everybody shares the teaching load. All in all this could promote a more balanced view on teaching and research.

Responses to @hallicek.