Foreword - Special Issue

Fran Beaton, Sally Bradley, Sandy Cope


Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) in many universities in the UK and beyond are likely to have multiple roles in a single institution: aspiring academic, student, teacher, researcher and employee. These roles have developed in the context of growing undergraduate numbers and the challenge for universities in terms of employing sufficient staff to teach them, leading in turn to a major expansion of GTAs in the UK, the US and Australasia. This expansion reflects both economic considerations – part-time staff are cheaper to employ and easier to dispense with –as well as the educational goal of giving would-be academics a chance to gain experience of teaching. However both these goals need to be set in their broader educational, economic and political contexts. These include the extent to which undergraduate expectations have changed as a result of higher tuition fees, for example, institutional messages about the importance of high performance in league tables, the UK National Student Survey and other perceived markers of quality. There is also the strong likelihood that most GTAs have their own strong recent undergraduate memories, want to do their best for their students and are painfully aware of what they do not know. Given all this, what characterises quality support available for this group?

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