Institutions see teaching assignments as corvé

Opinion | by guest writers

May 5, 2022 † Educational institutions should take the pedagogical part of their duties more seriously, say Hans Savelberg, Renske Bouwer and Jolien Mouw. Institutions prioritize research over education, which damages teachers’ intrinsic motivation.

Photo: Natalie Dmay

Whether higher education institutions – especially universities – are sufficiently aware of their teaching tasks has long been a concern for those interested in education. It is precisely because of the Recognize and Appreciation movement that this problem has come to the fore, but the discussion seems to be primarily about acknowledging and appreciating individual employees for their teaching assignments.

But in order to enable a sustainable change in the recognition and appreciation of education, it is also necessary to question the identity that universities measure themselves. Do universities really see education as an important part of their identity? Do universities appear as institutes that educate (young) people and share knowledge, or is the widespread identity primarily aimed at internationally recognized research of high quality and securing associated grants? We do not want to downplay the universities ‘added value in generating knowledge, but if we consider the universities’ core tasks as knowledgedivisors If they really want to take shape, it is necessary for the institutions to identify with it in the depths of their fibers.

The culture denies education

Recognition and appreciation in terms of education requires that universities take their role as an educational institution seriously. It is not enough to state in political notes and on websites that education is important, but we must radiate from all our fibers, that education is close to our hearts, and that it is a matter of course that education is a core task for universities. That is not the case now. We are not concerned about individuals involved in providing education, which is often very dedicated; our concern is about the attitude and culture of the institutions with regard to education. This culture shows that education is an afterthought and that anyone can do it without paying special attention to developing expertise in this field.

In higher education, teaching assignments are often seen as chores, and the idea is alive that everyone can ‘take a lesson’. We would be surprised if the captain of a plane comes with the coffee and the meals, because she happened to be on board and could handle it for a while. In the present academic education we do not make a large number of this; the researcher is home anyway, so he can also give a lecture. However, it is strange to think that those who can do good research can also provide education without further ado. A related concern is that everyone in higher education is allowed to have a vision without any knowledge of the business. In addition to the weather and the position of the Dutch national team, education is a theme that everyone has an opinion on and thinks they understand.

Top education earns more than teachers with only one basic education.

In higher education, we see the consequences of this in a culture where everyone is allowed to invent their own wheel, make their own academic plan or implement changes and not have to worry about the effectiveness of the chosen form of education. In education, we often do not act evidence-informed. It is also surprising, especially as we choose critical thinking, reasoning and action as a guideline in our research practice. It is as if a doctor is treating you based on what she has just arrived at, without being guided by any knowledge of the effectiveness of a treatment.

As mentioned above: We do not want to stand behind the individual teachers, but to question the culture and our way of working. The current culture and work structure provide few opportunities for education and training is often subordinate to recruitment policy. PhD students are appointed as ‘researchers in education’, university lecturers are appointed on the basis of the quality (and even more often quantity) of their research, and those who wish to climb further up the academic ladder usually rely on research successes. Throughout this structure, there is not much room for visions of training and professionalization of pedagogical tasks. In such an environment, it is not surprising that there is little attention paid to education.

Self-motivated teachers

An institution that takes its role as a teacher seriously should ensure that the educators it appoints have demonstrable quality experience, qualifications and passion for education. In addition, educational institutions should facilitate and encourage these teachers to develop further in the many different teaching tasks. In fact, many teachers in higher education now have a BKO; a basic teacher qualification. However, top educations earn more than teachers with only a basic education. The basic qualification for researchers – a PhD track – lasts 4 years. The time required for an average BKO stands in stark contrast to this. In addition, after BKO, there is often some time available for further education, reflection or innovation. This also shows that we only do education next door.

This culture, where education is a secondary task and where there is little explicit attention to the quality of teachers, does not only lead to suboptimal quality of education; it also goes at the expense of job satisfaction. People achieve job satisfaction from tasks for which they are inherently motivated and for which they are valued. If an institution exudes that research is much more important and you teach because you have to, the inherent motivation for education is not addressed or stimulated. In order to have, have and retain inherently motivated teachers, we must also take into account teaching abilities and qualities in the recruitment procedures. Employees must also be encouraged and facilitated to acquire or further develop training competencies. Teachers provide better education when they experience that their work requires qualities that can be developed, when they feel valued in it, and when they are passionate about their teaching role.

Liberation of the university’s educational identity

We need the liberation of education in academic education. Liberation means that educational institutions recognize that education is one of the fundamental tasks, that institutions fully embrace their identity as educational institutions, and that we have the courage to accept the consequences that this recognition entails. It also means that universities recognize that the design and provision of quality education can not be carried out just like that by anyone, and that we should not leave the organization of the institutions’ educational task to colleagues who identify primarily as researchers. This in no way means that we want to separate education and research, but that we recognize that they are domains with their own interests and that both interests must be heard and represented in a team.

For this culture to change, we will have to adapt structures. Educational identity will be supported by structures that provide a vision for education in training, professionalization of all involved in education, assessment of new employees’ educational qualifications and evidence-informed the basis for education and continuous innovation. In addition, the individual teacher must be able to develop. These types of structures can be organized in many ways, but all variants will promote and protect the meaning and value of education. An example of such a structure could be an educational institution that handles the above tasks per. faculty. For example, institutions together with research institutes also have extensive participation in such a faculty policy. In this way, education gets its own face in the institutions and higher education can spread its educational identity.


Savelberg (Maastricht University), Bouwer (Utrecht University) and Mouw (Groningen University) are members of circle Sustainable education of the Comenius network.

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