Global Teaching Excellence Awards

Categories HE Sector, Learning & Teaching

Last night a team from Teesside headed down to the bright lights of the big city for the inaugural Higher Education Academy and Times Higher prize-giving for the Global Teaching Excellence Awards.

The awards were devised to allow institutions to demonstrate their continued and innovative commitment to teaching excellence for their students. And unlike awards like the recently announced National Teaching Fellowships, these awards focus on institutional actions rather than the work of specific individuals. Following over 300 expressions of interest, 27 universities were long-listed based on their 3000 word statements. And we were delighted to be part of that special group. Other finalists included UK universities like UCL, Salford, Exeter and Birmingham as well as universities from overseas, such as McMaster, Monash, Johannesburg and Wollongong. Most of the finalists were large universities, but there were also some smaller, more specialist institutions like the Norwegian Academy of Music and the Swiss Hotel Management School.

The keynote for the night was Andreas Schleicher from the OECD who gave a provocative talk about the future of HE. You can see the reaction of the delegates on Twitter here, but his key points were that the a university education has social and fiscal benefits for all of society, that a knowledge economy is the best way to support development of a country, and that the continuing and increasing digitisation of everything that we do must be addressed by universities. This was an interesting point that directly addressed recent concerns about the impact of AI and robots in the workplace. His point was simply that universities should focus less on making students know things (since Google will always know more than we do) and more on helping them to know what to do with that knowledge. Although I didn’t agree with everything he said in his talk about the importance of research, I absolutely supported his notion that teaching is a social and relational practice.  Shocker – someone stating that everything comes back to people appealed to the anthropologist in me…

Our PVC(L&T) Prof Mark Simpson and new Student Union VP(Education) Tom Platt picked up our finalist award. As an aside, it is unfathomably heavy and almost impossible to photograph (although to be fair, that may have been a result of the wine…).

I was really keen to get a sense of what all the 27 finalists had in common in terms of teaching excellence. Little snippets of info accompanied each university as they walked across the stage to collect their awards, but each university seemingly offered something different and unique. Except for one thing – a clear, well articulated commitment to enhancing the student experience through innovative and demonstrably effective approaches to learning and teaching, that are embedded in their university vision and philosophy. Simple as that then…

Unfortunately we didn’t win the grand overall winner’s prize. My money was on the University of Johannesburg who explicitly addressed the support needed for socially disadvantaged students in their work. But again, that’s the anthropologist in me… The winner was the University of Huddersfield who have been making terrific strides over recent years to enhance their institution and the lives of their students. So congratulations to them!

If it’s any consolation, I’m pretty sure we won the Twitter action though…

I'm a Professor of Applied Biological Anthropology at Teesside University.