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Usman Ali

Usman Ali
Usman Ali was the NUS Vice President (Higher Education) 2010-12.

The Value of Great Teaching

Just like at school, (hopefully) all of us remember at least one great teacher from our university days. I know I do. Someone whose enthusiasm and passion for the subject is so boundless that students can’t help but get just as excited.

Some of my best memories are from my old teachers and lecturers. Some of my best pranks involved teachers in high school, but that’s another story. What was amazing however, were how these teachers and lecturers were able to convert my cheekiness and passion for being the one who ‘stood out’ in to understanding the topic and communicating it in a way that I got it! I remember one of my favourite lecturers in University. She wasn’t one of the cool ones you get, but she was always at hand to help and support, if you put the work in. In effect she was the one who made me a course rep, gave me a good reference for my placement and with her guidance helped me get a first class mark in one of my hardest assignments I have ever taken. Without those experiences, I doubt I would be where I am today.
Too much attention is still paid to an institution’s RAE score by league-tables and rankings, when excellent teaching is a factor that is more important to students than a university’s research portfolio. Perhaps this is because, whilst there is a well-established and respected peer review system for research, no such initiative exists to recognise and reward good teaching. But we know that there is great teaching across the sector and throughout all of the mission groups- the highest National Student Survey scores are for the quality of teaching on courses. But isn’t it about time that all students were able to have their say on how important great teaching is to them, and what it looks like?
One solution is to allow students to recognise and reward good teaching through schemes of student-led teaching awards at a union level. These initiatives are designed and implemented by students, for students, and have the potential to have a real and positive impact on the debate about quality and teaching. That’s why I’m really excited about a joint NUS and Higher Education Academy project happening this year. We’ll be working with unions across the UK who don’t have any kind of student-led teaching award scheme in place, as well as supporting unions who already have schemes to make theirs even more special. We’re also going to be creating resources to ensure that student-led teaching awards can be grown and developed for years to come.
Student-led teaching awards are a really positive way to engage students in the debate around teaching quality and to let them have their say on what good teaching looks like. The fact that the entire process is owned and delivered by the student body means that the results can really reflect the student experience in the education environment. Teaching awards give students a voice to tell their institution, as well as the sector at-large, what they think teaching could and should be like.
At a time when David Willetts and the Conservative government insist on depicting students as consumers, it is more important than ever to give students the power to shape their learning experience. Student-led teaching awards are a great way to actively engage students in the ongoing quality debate, and to give them a voice to say what they want from their education environment. So, if you’re a union officer, get involved in the NUS and HEA project and give your membership a chance to lead change.
To end, you can not put a value on great teaching. The value of great teaching can never be underestimated and its effects can last a lifetime. My family have always taught me to thank those who should be thanked and this is our opportunity to thank and recognise those who endlessly work to create the people of tomorrow.


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'The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the policies and practices of NUS



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