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The Academic Practitioner Divide in Marketing Education: Part Two

-Lynn Vos (Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

In the last post, I considered the academic-practitioner divide in marketing education, where marketing teachers in HE are the 'practitioners' who do not engage much with the 'academic' literature on teaching, learning and pedagogy as much as one might expect. In this post, I will look at the possible reasons:

1. Institutional culture

2. Lack of strong pedagogic leadership and institutional structures within schools;

3. Limited emphasis/requirements from school and university policy documents/processes that curriculum development and teaching/learning/assessment practices be underpinned with an evidence-base;

4. Lack of professional development programmes and courses;

5. Lack of awareness; and

6. Pedagogic research viewed as a poor cousin to discipline based research.

1. Institutional culture

When people join the academy, they are generally expected to set out a research plan, teach on modules in their areas of expertise (or on others to develop their knowledge or fill teaching gaps) and eventually take on additional administrative roles such as programme leadership. Most new lecturers are required to undertake a professional development programme, often accredited by the Higher Education Academy (HEA, now Advance HE), that exposes them to pedagogic research and literature and evidence based approaches to develop their teaching practice. Outside of the programme however, they are not likely to find many discussions about pedagogy going on in their departments or great emphasis being placed on research related to teaching and learning. Indeed, this reflects the institutional culture of most business schools that I have taught in or visited.

In my experiences as Discipline Lead for Marketing, Accounting and Finance (UK), I found only a few strong advocates of pedagogic research and evidence based practice amongst academic staff but otherwise a more wide-spread culture of evidence-based practice remained limited. Indeed, at most institutions, research into teaching and learning is viewed as quite a distant second to research in one's marketing specialism (e.g. marketing communications or consumer behaviour) and thus there are few incentives to make pedagogy a research direction. More on this point later.

2. Lack of strong pedagogic leadership and institutional structures within schools.

It is only fairly recently that Directors or Associate Deans of Teaching and Learning have been appointed in academic schools in the UK. The vast majority of these posts are filled with internal candidates who have shown a strong interest in the area, have carried out lower levels of management such as programme leadership and ,more recently, have become a Senior or Principal Fellow of the HEA (see 4 below). (Although at one institution that I worked at the Director of Teaching and Learning came from an administrative post and had no experience as a teaching academic!). Few opportunities exist to help develop candidates who are offered the position - the only annual training that I know of for business school directors or associate deans is the Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) 'Leaders in Teaching and Learning Programme' - a once yearly 4 day course spread over a number of months that takes place in London with generally no more than 10 participants, and often fewer.

University-based training and upskilling is rarely available for post holders. Whereas Directors of Research are generally not appointed without considerable evidence of research leadership, publications in top journals and many years of research collaborations, PhD supervisions and other contributions, Directors of Teaching and Learning do not necessarily have to have a publication record or other leadership roles in the area, but rather have shown evidence of good teaching practice and interest in pedagogy as demonstrated by local or national conference attendance, from running programmes or from student feedback and surveys.

This isn't to say that post holders are not competent - some are and some are not as is the case in all management appointments - but that there is limited training, lower expectations in terms of accomplishment in the area than for Directors of Research and limited networks either within or across institutions for them to develop their professional practice. In addition, their roles can become suffused with deadlines and paperwork associated with the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and its component surveys such as the NSS (National Student Survey) and DLHE (Destination of Leavers of Higher Education), not to mention many other institutional metrics and surveys. All of these together can act to limit the time Directors have to develop a pedagogic research profile, to develop their leadership skills and to build an institutional culture of evidence-based pedagogy.

3. Limited emphasis/requirements from school and university policy documents/processes that curriculum development and teaching/learning/assessment practices be underpinned with an evidence-base

In 2012, I co-founded a curriculum development community of practice in marketing with June Dennis (now Dean of Staffordshire Business School). We undertook research with marketing colleagues across the UK who were tasked with curriculum development and or revalidations (in most UK universities there is a five year cycle for curriculum revision). One finding from the research and one that I myself experienced when in charge of curriculum development at a London-based university was that most revalidation documents and processes have only minimum requirements for teaching, learning and assessment decisions to be underpinned with research and evidence from the higher education literature. Why is this the case?

For one, quality assurance organisations who set guidelines for course development and curriculum such as the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) do not set standards regarding evidence-based practice. The QAA provides guidelines for curriculum review and sets benchmark statements for many disciplines to guide the development of progamme outcomes (Note that Marketing does not have its own benchmark statements. The closest statements are those related to Business and Management). Those who develop internal policies and guidelines for curriculum development and review take direction from the QAA and rarely add additional requirements regarding evidence based practice.

Organisations such as the Higher Education Academy (HEA, now Advance UK) of which most UK universities are members, heavily promote evidence based practice and have a rich set of resources - including publications, annual conferences and workshops to help guide the individual teacher as well as the department in all aspects of teaching, learning, assessment and curriculum development. However, not all universities or schools work closely with the HEA and often few members of staff have made use of these resources or attended one of the many events hosted by either the HEA or a related organisation - the Society for Research in Higher Education (SHRE). Again, this could be a matter of habit and institutional culture, or a lack of strong leadership that promotes engagement with these organisations and what they have to offer.

4. Lack of professional development programmes and courses.

As noted above, Directors of Teaching and Learning have a limited set of development opportunities within the sector or within their institutions. Outside of the CABS course (see 2 above) there are no specific qualifications or diplomas for teaching and learning directors or leaders

For academic staff, opportunities for enhancement are available from resources and events provided by the HEA and SHRE and more recently by the Teaching Alliance for academics whose members are part of the UK Universities group. However, in my experience, only a small portion of academic staff use the resources or attend the seminars and workshops provided.

Most universities have an annual Teaching and Learning Conference that academics are expected to attend and most set guidelines for academic staff to engage in a certain amount of professional development each year; benchmarks are generally set during the annual appraisal process. Junior staff typically have to complete a training programme that leads to accreditation from the HEA (FHEA - Fellow of the Higher Education Academy) but beyond this there are no further requirements to upskill in pedagogy - just encouragement to gain higher levels of accreditation (Senior Fellow HEA and Principal Fellow HEA). From the range of professional development opportunities available at an institution there is great variety in terms of how many are related to teaching and learning. For example, at my institution a quick review of professional development courses for the months of April - May, showed only two directly related to pedagogy or teaching and learning.

5. Lack of awareness

Given the lack of an institution wide culture, the limited requirements for programme and course decisions to be underpinned by evidence,the lack of attendance at national events and the limited number of professional development courses that focus on teaching, learning and assessment, it is understandable why there is a general lack of awareness of the vast store of higher education research literature that can assist academics in improving their teaching practice and potentially student outcomes. It is only recently that the emphasis on teaching quality as exemplified in the new institutional measurement system called the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) has begun to make more academics aware of the importance of pedagogic research and evidence. Unfortunately, in my review of 23 TEF Gold Award winning institutions in 2017, almost no teaching academic was part of the institutional TEF submission process. Odd, given that the TEF is meant to measure teaching quality. In addition, the TEF does not specify requirements for universities to demonstrate their commitment to evidence based practice or pedagogic research. While the TEF documents suggest that institutions comment on their practices and requirements related to scholarship, research and professional practice and one criterion for excellence is the willingness to engage with the literature on pedagogy and evidence-based practices to improve teaching, learning and student outcomes., it is only one of many many topics that are to be covered in the 15 page submission and no benchmarks are set.

Gold award winners do invest in scholarship through research grant schemes (e.g. University of Bath · awarded over £130,000 in the past three years to teaching and learning projects; Portsmouth and others provide sabbaticals for teaching and learning research) and top management at these institutions do seem to be placing greater emphasis on evidence based practice. Many, for example, have quite impressive teaching and learning institutes (see for example the University of Birmingham's Higher Education Future's Institute or the Cambridge University's Centre for Teaching and Learning).

However, in my report TEF : What makes gold? (in press) I question how widely staff are engaging with the offerings of these institutes/centres:

While these examples show particular instances of institutional investments in developing evidence-based TLA practices, prior research by Stevenson, Whelan and Boyt (2014) paints a different picture. As noted above, in a critical discourse analysis of the websites and key teaching-related documentation of 11 UK universities, they found no meaningful consideration of issues of pedagogy. Nor did they find deeper discussions of pedagogy in their interviews with 33 managers of these institutions. They found evidence for:

pedagogic stratification’ … with institutions both striving to distinguish themselves as distinct while, at times, homogenising their approaches to teaching excellence, pedagogic practices and the overall student experience (p. 5). The absence of meaningful engagement with issues of pedagogy in institutional documentation [and in discussions with managers] risks sidelining core issues of teaching and learning … institutions should think beyond the buzzwords of ‘teaching excellence’ and the ‘student experience’ to engage with deeper issues of pedagogy; this necessitates genuine engagement and dialogue with teaching staff. (p.6)

This lack of engagement with pedagogy may be changing since their report was written (2014 – pre TEF), but as noted above, this author has also found limited engagement with the pedagogic literature at the academic level in marketing departments, thus providing evidence for a kind of academic-practitioner divide, where the teacher is the practitioner who is not, for whatever reason, engaging with the literature on pedagogy as much as might be desired. Whether this is due to an institutional culture that focuses more on easy fixes to lower scores in teaching surveys, whether it is evidence for an already stretched teaching resource or other reasons requires further study. However, it does again point out that the narrative form of the TEF submissions can obscure important policies and practices around teaching. Providers could more clearly (and thus more usefully) outline the outcomes of some of these investments in terms of improvements in student learning, in order to better support their data on investment in pedagogy. In addition, there needs to be more evidence of an institution-wide commitment to pedagogy. As Stevenson, Whelan and Boyt (2014) so aptly put it:

Senior academics need to create opportunities in higher education for all academic staff (including themselves) to engage in critical reflections on teaching, in order to critique and deconstruct neoliberal discourses and to develop richer, more inclusive and critical pedagogical understanding. (p.6)

6. Pedagogic research viewed as a poor cousin to discipline based research.

Despite the TEF and the growing investments in pedagogic research at many universities, it is still viewed as less important or prestigious than discipline based research. To achieve academic promotions, most have to prioritise specialised research in sub areas of marketing such as B2B, consumer behaviour, or marketing communications and bring in external research funding. While internal funding for pedagogic research has been increasing and some organisations offer teaching and research related grants (e.g. Academy of Marketing, SHRE and a few others), these are generally much smaller (usually around £3000 but up to £10,000 - SHRE) than those available through such organisations as Leverhulme and the ESRC where grants can be as high as £500,000.

However, there is some evidence that things are changing. Until recently those who engaged predominantly in pedagogic research had fewer opportunities for promotion to reader and professorial level. Now, many Universities offer promotion to these levels based on pedagogic research outputs and work related to teaching and learning enhancement I am one such example - my recent promotion to Associate Professor was based on my pedagogic research and commitment to evidence based practice.

Other evidence of the growing value of pedagogic research can be found in the documents related to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework - a seven yearly assessment of the outputs and impact of research carried out at UK universities. Submissions based on pedagogic research will apparently be given more weight in this round than previously.

Nonetheless, pedagogic researchers still feel relatively isolated from the research culture in their institutions. In addition, given the smaller available research grants, many projects are inevitably based on small samples drawn from the academic's own institution. It is more difficult to publish this kind of study in a higher ranked journal - a key goal for most researchers to achieve promotion and recognition.


This post has considered many factors that hinder the development of a more evidence-based approach to teaching and learning in UK universities. While there is some evidence that things are moving in a positive direction, much more could be done.

In the third post in this series, I will consider ways to embed an evidence-based approach into both one's own teaching and that of the department, school and university.

Lynn Vos - April 2019

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