NATFHE recently released a report on part-time teaching in higher education- In From the Cold? -and it concluded, unsurprisingly, that attitudes to teaching and to part-time staff at departmental level have far more impact on part-time tutors than institutional policy has, and so responses to the needs of part-time tutors need to be dealt with to a large extent at subject level. The English Subject Centre has begun work on a project to support part-time and postgraduate tutors in English and we also plan to provide detailed information departments and to individual full-time staff who work with part-timers. Our major survey of English departments in 2002 will gather data on the use of part-time teaching in English and we are currently running a jiscmail list to promote discussion among part-time tutors. We will also be setting up a focus group on this issue early in 2002.
The NATFHE report raises some issues for discussion. It recommends that departments should give responsibility for managing part-time staff to one member of the department. The part-timers we have spoken to have commented that they also benefit when module leaders have clear information about their responsibilities towards the part-timers teaching on their modules (the need for them to have contact details and the means to pass on relevant information about changes, as well as to provide handbooks; assessment criteria and assessment titles, for example). The NATFHE report also suggests that part-time tutors should be integrated into any mentoring and peer observation schemes that operate in the department in which they are based. A considerable number of part-time tutors work in more than one institution and have experience of teaching a wide range of students and modules and departments should take this into account not only when they are planning support but when they are changing or adapting modules. The NATFHE report recommends that part-time tutors are invited to, and paid for attendance at, meetings relevant to their teaching responsibilities not least because they know how modules are being received by students and their teaching experience can usefully be taken into account when modules are being redesigned.
Departments can offer support and training to part-time tutors, particularly at assessment time, but they should also be able to take advantage of institutional initiatives. Many university staff development units now offer training to part-time tutors who can study for a college certificate, a SEDA qualification or, more recently, associate membership of the Institute of Learning and Teaching (ILT). The English Subject Centre is represented on a focus group organised jointly by the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) and the Higher Education Staff Development Association (HESDA) which will be making representations to HEFCE about the practical and contractual status of part-time staff. Our involvement in the group has also led to us becoming involved in a project to develop subject-specific training for part-timers in partnership with a university which provides English and we expect to report on this project during the next academic year.
We would be delighted to hear from anyone interested in becoming involved in our work with part-time tutors and we also welcome enquiries from departments and individual part-time and full-time tutors. We hope that departments will continue to fund the participation of part-timers in our national events.