David Gosling

  • Theoretical underpinnings: an analysis of Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs)

    David Gosling, University of Plymouth, UK

    Andrew Hannan, University of Plymouth, UK

    Session 4a, Tuesday 16.00

    Research paper

    Theme addressed:

    • Implementing and managing change and innovation

    The establishment in 2005 of 74 Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs) represents the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE's) largest ever single funding initiative designed to support the development of teaching and learning. The CETLs will get a total of £315 million over five years from 2005-06 to 2009-10. Each CETL will receive recurrent funding, ranging from £200,000 to £500,000 per annum for five years, and a capital sum ranging from £0.8 million to £2 million (HEFCE 2004). In 2006 additional funding will be allocated to some of the established CETLs and there are indications that there will be a second round of bidding.

    This is a major initiative designed both to reward and promote excellence in teaching and learning across most of the higher education (HE) curriculum. It is also intended to form a counter-balance to the Research Assessment Exercise in giving institutions an incentive to prioritise teaching and learning. As such, it constitutes a fascinating case of an attempt to encourage innovation in HE.

    This paper relates to a longitudinal research project, supported by the University of Plymouth, into the formation and development of the CETLs. The project is intended to examine the impact of the CETL initiative through all its stages, from first bids to implementation. In the first phase of the research (from January 2004) we have investigated how members of staff from different types of institutions came to understand the initiative, how they responded to its requirements, how the bidding process itself shaped the proposals, the individual and institutional effects of both failure and success in the bidding rounds and the way in which proposals have begun to be put into effect. We have been interviewing those involved (both bid-writers and senior managers) in over 20 CETL proposals from some 15 institutions. The findings from this first phase have been reported to SRHE (Hannan and Gosling 2005) and a journal article is in preparation.

    This paper will present findings from the current stage of the project in which we are analysing the nature of the CETLs themselves, in terms of the kinds of activities they are undertaking. We are particularly interested in the theories that, explicitly or implicitly, are informing the approaches being adopted, in terms of the pedagogies and forms of curriculum they have been established to promote and the models of organisational change they invoke. It might be anticipated that, because each CETL is expected to undertake research relating to the main area of pedagogy in which excellence has been recognised, some clear theoretical frameworks would be identifiable. Some questions we will be addressing include:

    • Where CETLs have adopted a named pedagogical approach such as experiential learning (Boud and Walker 1993) , or problem-based learning (Savin-Baden 2000) or ‘learning communities’ (Wenger 1998) , how is this influencing their activities?
    • Where CETLs use the rhetoric of for example, ‘student-centred learning’ (Prosser and Trigwell 1999) or ‘reflective practice’ (Schon 1983) to what extent is an identifiable theoretical position being developed and applied?
    • What assumptions about institutional cultures (Becher and Kogan 1992; Bergquist 1992; McNay 1995) are being made and what models of change management are informing the practice of CETLs?
    • How is knowledge of pedagogy in the area of each CETL being acquired, developed and communicated within the CETL and disseminated beyond it?

    Data are being gathered from various forms of documentation, including the bids themselves, descriptions in promotional literature and websites. We shall supplement this material with information from interviews with the academic directors of a sample of CETLs.


    • Becher T and Kogan M (1992). Process and Structure in Higher Education. London: Routledge.
    • Bergquist WH (1992). The Four Cultures of the Academy. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.
    • Boud D and Walker D (Eds) (1993). Using Experience for Learning. Buckingham: SRHE/Open University Press.
    • Hannan A and Gosling D (2005). "Responses to a policy initiative: the case of Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning", Presentation to SRHE Conference, Bristol.
    • HEFCE (2004). Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning: Invitation to bid for funds (2004/05). Bristol: Higher Education Funding Council for England.
    • McNay I (1995). From Collegial Academy to Corporate Enterprise: the Changing Cultures of Universities. The Changing University? T Schuller. Buckingham: SRHE/Open University Presspp105-115.
    • Prosser M and Trigwell K (1999). Understanding Learning and Teaching: The Experience in Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE Open University Press.
    • Savin-Baden, M (2000). Problem-based Learning in Higher Education, Buckingham: SRHE Open University Press.
    • Schon D (1983). Educating the Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. London: Temple Smith.
    • Wenger E (1998). Communities of Practice, Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.