Four simple ways to raise the status of teaching at universities

At major universities, faculty members are often said to view teaching as less prestigious than research. To the extent that this is true, it’s an impediment to the development of great educational programs and it prevents us from finding good synergies between teaching and research.

I recently heard Kristin Halvorsen, Norway’s Minister of Education and Research, point again to the low status of teaching. She asked for suggestions about how to rectify this. Here are four structural changes that could contribute to her important goal.

1] Make excellence in teaching part of the promotion process. When an associate professor in Norway applies for promotion to full professor, an external committee is formed; that committee has the final word in determining whether or not an individual is promoted.

This system could easily be modified to enhance the status of teaching. There are two possible approaches. One option is to change the instructions for the committees. Associate professors at Norwegian universities spend roughly half their time on teaching and half on research. Yet the evaluation committees are (almost) exclusively concerned with research. They could be instructed to consider teaching accomplishments as well as research accomplishments when considered a promotion application.

An alternative approach would let the committees continue to focus on research, but instead allow the applicant’s local leadership (e.g. department chair) to supplement the committee’s evaluation with an assessment of the individual’s work as a teacher, before a final decision is made by the applicant’s home university.

2] Award publication points for textbooks and other teaching materials. The Norwegian government finances universities in part based on their research production, as measured in an elaborate system for counting publications. Points are awarded only for research publications; hence, money is generated by scientific articles and monographs.

There is no monetary award, however, for the production of teaching materials, such as textbooks. If textbooks were awarded points just like published PhD dissertations are, it would increase the status for work focused on teaching. At my university, a certain number of points are necessary to earn a sabbatical; currently, these can only be earned through research publications. If they also could be earned for publications focused on work in the classroom, it would be a motivation to do this kind of work.

3] Use credit-production funds for teaching incentives. Universities in Norway are also partially funded on the basis of the number of credits (studiepoeng) they produce. Yet while it is common for the funding generated by research to be partially channeled back to its source (individual or group), it is very uncommon for funds generated by credit-production to be channeled anywhere other than the general budget. Indeed, I’ve never heard of this happening.

There’s no formal barrier to using credit-production funds for incentives. It is of course true that most such monies are necessary for basic expenses like salaries, but some of it could be used to reward those who invest in teaching. If this option were promoted from above, I’m confident we could see some creative approaches.

4] Connect research money to excellence in teaching. One idea that is floating around is that university presidents in Norway are less invested in teaching excellence than research excellence. Personally, I do not believe this claim, after four years as a VP spending a lot of time with people in university leadership. However, if you’re convinced it is true, then you could get the attention of presidents by connecting teaching to the funding of research.

For example, you could require that applications to the national research council include a discussion of how the new knowledge generated by the project will be taught. What courses does the project fit in with? What pedagogical innovations will it trigger? What is the relationship between the research group that is applying for funds and the teaching program? Just asking these questions would make it clear that teaching properly belongs at the core of university activity, alongside research.

It’s not difficult to come up with these ideas, Minister Halvorsen. But it is difficult to implement them. Your leadership could make that possible. If you want to raise the status of teaching, choose any one of these, and lead the way.

I look forward to seeing where you choose to go.

What’s your idea for how to raise the status of teaching at universities? Tell me in the comments section below!

A revised version of this article appeared in Aftenposten on June 19, 2014, under the title 5 grep for å heve undervisnings status.

My interest in moving universities towards balance encompasses gender equality, the communication of scientific results, promoting research-based education and leadership development more generally. Read more



  • Maleene de Ridder says:

    Mt. Rice, I enjoyed your interesting blog and expect that these 4 measures will be effective to raise the status of teaching in the Academia. Nevertheless I expect ‘more’ intrinsic measures are needed too. For instance:
    – teaching is a profession, thus all academics need to be profesionally trained on the basics of good lecturing;
    – above that: train and teach academics how to deliver lectures with impact. If they do, they want more…;
    – train students in teaching too and add teaching to the curriculum, this way you create a teaching culture;
    – use student-ratings: how do they rate the lectures of XX and you might even consider to organize the best-lecturer of the year award…
    – actively link teaching to research and vive versa
    – use contemporaine, innovative and attractive ways and methods
    – etc….
    Best regards, Maleene de Ridder

  • Tor W. Andreassen says:

    Being a huge fan of excellence in teaching, I applaud your four suggestions to promote great teaching. I would also include great learning as part of the equation.

    My experience from USA and Norway is a fifth factor: creating a norm for excellent teaching. Too much in Norway is based on individual efforts and personal ambitions in teaching. So much is lacking in team efforts or creating forums for promoting and polishing excellent teaching.

  • Tord Høivik says:

    We have had rules about this for fifty years – but the traditional resistance is too strong.

    At HiOA the pressure to publish under the Tellekant regime is increasing, while teaching, innovation and dissemination are applauded in words, but hardly recognized in action. The Ministry demands publications that satisfy the official criteria, based on data from CRIStin …

    There are interests at play. I’ve argued the general case here “Et uprofesjonelt instrument ” http://shar.es/iXqQK , but it seems very hard to get a substantive discussion going …

1 Trackback


I encourage you to republish this article online and in print, under the following conditions.

  • You have to credit the author.
  • If you’re republishing online, you must use our page view counter and link to its appearance here (included in the bottom of the HTML code), and include links from the story. In short, this means you should grab the html code below the post and use all of it.
  • Unless otherwise noted, all my pieces here have a Creative Commons Attribution licence -- CC BY 4.0 -- and you must follow the (extremely minimal) conditions of that license.
  • Keeping all this in mind, please take this work and spread it wherever it suits you to do so!