• Author(s): Dr Holly Smith
  • Title: Values in Higher Education
  • Subject: HE - Education
  • Keywords: ukoer, ukpsf, cpd4he, values, higher education, professional ethics, teaching
  • Language(s): English
  • Material type(s): Text, Audio
  • File format(s): ZIP, HTML, PDF, ODT, RTF, MP3
  • File size: Various
  • Publish Date: 18th February 2011
  • Licence: CC-BY-NC-SA



There has been something of a lack of attention paid to issues of educational values in HE. My starting point is that all HE teaching is deeply value-laden, and that considering the ethical implications of our everyday decisions, and developing the judgement to address the dilemmas that we face is central to academic practice in HE. This has two elements; firstly your articulation of your own personal values in relation to education and secondly your engagement with issues of inclusive practice as required by the UK Professional Standards Framework.

I argue that an inclusive curriculum has three elements:

  • The syllabus
    The syllabus, in the choice of topics, resources, examples or case studies, requires you to make choices about what is valued and what is excluded, and questions of representation come to the fore.
  • The processes
    The processes, the methods and activities can either be disempowering and didactic, or to empowering participants by valuing the experience that they bring to the course and enabling them to share it with their peers. Thus methods of working, such as group work, project work, problem based learning, peer assessment, a negotiated curriculum and Rowland’s (2006) enquiry method facilitate this.
  • The participants
    The participants in any programme may be more or less representative of the population of the UK in terms of ethnicity, gender, ability, sexuality and age. So, questions of the representativeness of the cohort of students again come to the fore. However, university students in the UK today are drawn from an international constituency, which makes equality targets for representation from different communities based on UK census data of limited value.

Some argue that academic practice is not as value-laden as I see it. While mathematics might be a pure, abstract discipline, the teaching of mathematics (or any other discipline) is a human activity, and human relationships are full of emotion and human activity is full of moral dilemmas. I take the position that in education there are no problems to be solved, only dilemmas about which judgements must be made. These judgements are deeply moral and political and failure to acknowledge this is not ‘neutral’ but an unthinking acceptance of the status quo.

Take the example of a common dilemma: a classroom situation where a teacher with limited time must decide how best to support each student. The left has traditionally argued ‘to each according to their need’ and that a teacher should devote most time to supporting those who need it most. In contrast, the right has often argued for equality of distribution of resources, disregarding the inequality in existing resources and thus reinforcing it. A teacher’s judgement in such a dilemma must also be informed by their purpose. The behaviour of a teacher intending to get all students over a threshold of achievement would look very different from the behaviour of a teacher whose intention was to nurture the next Nobel Prize winner in their discipline. I would encourage you to think creatively about such dilemmas; in this example, peer-assisted learning or an investigation of what e-learning resources might be available could provide new ways to think about the dilemma. However, I do not wish to impose a ‘solution’, implying as it does a shared moral framework and political position which does not exist.

Thus in these activities, I ask you to reframe your teaching problems as dilemmas, and to articulate your own educational values in a rigorous way. I hope the activities will help you to think through the implications of your own values in terms of your current and potential practices as teachers and researchers, and to think through the implications of your practices for your values. Each of the activities can be completed alone, but most would be enhanced by a collective and collaborative discussion of the task. Colleagues can provide a fresh perspective, or a robust challenge, to our educational values. Engaging in a constructive dialogue with peers can help us clarify our own values.


Creative Commons Licence
Values in Higher Education by Dr Holly Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at www.ucl.ac.uk.

Contact us: cpd4he@ucl.ac.uk

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