Wikipedia article on Certified Teacher

In most countries one must be licensed to teach at pre-school, primary or secondary level. The process for acquiring the license typically involves taking and passing an exam. Example for the Philippines:

Licensed teachers in the Philippines are required to pass the Licensure Examination for Teacher given by the Professional Regulation Commission. Once the teacher passes the exam, they will be given the title "Licensed Professional Teacher". The title "LPT" is used to append after the licensed teacher's name. However, anyone who is not a licensed teacher but uses "LPT" will be punished by the law.

Why doesn't this apply to university-level lecturers or professors? If it's because we can safely assume that lecturers and professors know how to teach, but not those teaching at more elementary level, why is this assumption safe? The curriculum of the teaching exam (example) says an objective is "to equip teachers and school leaders with the knowledge and professional expertise necessary to teach and manage educational programmes in challenging school environments". Why don't lecturers and professors need these skills too?

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    Presumably for the same reason you don't need a teaching licence to be a trainer for a professional certification - we require certification for people to interact with children, but have much less stringent requirements on who provides training for adults (presumably under the assumption that those are less vulnerable).
    – xLeitix
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 12:20
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    That said, some "certifications" do exist. Sweden requires faculty to do a certain amount of pedagogical coursework either prior to getting employed as a tenured teacher of shortly thereafter. Austrian habilitation requirements also entail a (very light-weight) evaluation of pedagogical competency.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 12:26
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    As a current college student in the US, I can confirm that assumption is NOT safe 😫
    – Drake P
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 16:49
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    Because most of the teaching at uni is nothing more than an afterthought that postgrads get coerced into doing for a tuition discount
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 19:23
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    Anecdotal evidence shows that good profs mostly (i.e. well into masters level) teach the stuff their own good profs taught, in much the same manner. The problem being that todays students are much worse in math. ;)
    – Karl
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 21:18

12 Answers 12


I think the reason could be that at the beginning of education, the methodology and teaching style are much more important than the content: children have to learn how to learn before they can learn specific things.

The further along in their student life, content gets more and more important, and it is assumed that students will have learned how to learn by themselves.

In tertiary education, it is the opposite than in primary education: the content is what matters most. So teachers there rather need to be experts in the topic they teach instead of expert educators (but ideally both).

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    I think this is a good answer, but would be better if a couple of "it is believed that"s were added. Personally I feel that teaching methodology is very important at the university level, but our culture might not. Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 17:45
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    But tertiary lecturers do need to be effective verbal communicators before sizable classes. Plainly, "quite a few" are not . . . and their employers take no measures to improve this.
    – Trunk
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 13:03
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    @Trunk I completely agree, I personally don't think that the status quo is necessarily good as is. And on a side note, it is very hard to do anything about a lack of teaching skills in many cases: in Germany, the vast majority of professors are appointed for life, once you convinced the people in charge that you are capable of teaching students, you can pretty much be bad at it afterwards.
    – Sursula
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 13:08
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    Same here. In Ireland we call it "establishment" rather than "tenure". I am not saying that great communicators and/or lecturers using innovative methods make the best teachers however. In my experience, it is those who evoke a love for imparting knowledge that do so, especially with 17-22 age group. But there should be a baseline adequacy level for things like communication (oral, written, graphic) and teaching methods for all university lecturers.
    – Trunk
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 13:45
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    @GregMartin I think that believes comes at least in part from some limits on how long it takes to train someone as a teacher. If you put this bound at somewhat arbitrary 5 years, then for a primary school teacher they will have mastered the content pretty much before they even start so you can spend the entire 5 years on pedagogy. For a university level teacher just mastering the content takes already most of the 5 years. If you were to ask for another 5 years of pedagogy on top there would be no university teachers because it would take to long/ be to expensive to become one.
    – quarague
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 8:51

Because, historically, the purpose of universities was not teaching, but scholarship.

The students were more like apprentices who showed up to take part in the research and debates, expected to eventually become scholars as well.

Gradually, over the centuries, this has expanded, but the idea remains that the academics are there primarily to do research and to be experts in their field, and that students go to university not to be "taught" in the same sense as in high school, but to be in the company of some of the world's foremost experts. To be exposed to their ideas, observe how they conduct research, and learn on the way.

This idea is obviously in tension with the current model of having thousands and thousands of students come through, most of them not very interested in scholarship for its own sake. Most students expect to be taught, and many are entirely unaware of the research activity of their professors. There are simply too many for any sort of apprenticeship relationship to be viable.

We end up with two competing models of what a university should be like. Students arrive with one idea of what they are getting into, while academics are trained under a different set of assumptions. This does sound rather like a recipe for disaster, but somehow we keep bumbling along.

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    But were primary and secondary teachers typically required to be licensed historically? Or was this a rather recent development?
    – Kimball
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 0:42
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    @Kimball Here's an article on the history of US teaching certifications. I haven't read it all, but from the intro I surmise the basic answer to your question is "yes, certification has been around pretty much since the colonial days at least". Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 8:19

I don't know if this is universally true (suspect it is) so this is a US centric answer.

In the US, the governments (state and federal) have decreed, based on general (not universal) consensus, that elementary education and usually secondary education, are universal and mandatory.

Having decreed that students must attend schools they take on responsibility to guarantee its quality up to a point, though imperfectly it turns out.

But higher education is voluntary so there is no need to regulate it quite as closely, though there are many regulations even there.

I don't claim the system is perfect and it certainly has holes. At the moment education at all levels has become highly politicized, though the trend has been in place for decades.

For a parent, who must send their children to schools, and don't have a huge number of options about which school, it is necessary to the "common good" that the standards be high.

In the end, though, teacher certification flows pretty naturally from the mandatory nature of universal education. It also reduces cost to some extent at the local level, since individual schools don't need to certify teachers to the same extent that universities do, though many do impose a probationary period on new teachers. Such a probationary period is less formal, however, than the tenure process of universities.

  • 1
    This is the correct answer to the actual question - "why is it so".
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 17:03

Content Knowledge vs Pedagogical Skill

Ben Orlin (the author of Math with Bad Drawings) wrote fairly eloquently on this a few years ago. His thesis is that instructors are people who (broadly speaking) needs expertise in two somewhat unrelated areas:

  1. Content knowledge: an instructor must have mastery of the field that they are teaching. An instructor should know the details of the topic that they are teaching, and should be able to reconstruct or recall those details immediately.

  2. Pedagogical/andragogical skill: an instructor must have an ability to effectively communicate ideas and maintain engagement. An instructor should know how to keep students interested in what they are teaching, and what kinds of experiences are likely to lead to generation and retention of knowledge.

Orlin further argues that the traditional viewpoint of education is that instructors of young students needn't have a great deal of content knowledge, but must be masters of pedagogy; while instructors of older students must have a great deal of content knowledge, but needn't be great pedagogs.

skill and knowledge vs age

While Orlin tries to dismantle this traditional point of view some, I think that it is an accurate description of the current status quo.

With that in mind, licensure requirements for primary and secondary education (but not tertiary) are somewhat explained by what the licensure ensures: (1) that the instructor knows how to work with kids, (2) that they are not dangerous to children, and (3) that they have the minimal content knowledge required to get the job done.

Of these, (1) is probably the most critical. As an undergraduate, I underwent a teacher certification (to teach middle school and high school mathematics). Nearly all of the courses I took for that certification were related to pedagogy. Thus my license certifies that I have the pedagogical knowledge necessary to teach a class.

At higher levels, where content knowledge is more highly prized, an MA or PhD is generally sufficient to act in lieu of a license.

Children vs Adults

Another compelling argument for licensure is that students in a primary or secondary education setting are not adults, and need to be protected (by the state). This is doubly important in a society where student are required by the state to enroll in school (up to a certain age or level of education).

If a government required that students enroll in school, but then did nothing to ensure that the education those students are receiving is adequate, then one can imagine that this requirement would quickly evaporate as a kind of "unfunded mandate".

Children have very little choice about education. Most children (in places where licensure is required; or, at least, in the US and western Europe) attend publicly funded schools, where their teachers are employed by the state (i.e. by a municipal government, by a state government, by a provincial government, etc). Because the state is responsible for educating students, and because the students don't have much of a say in the matter, the state takes on the responsibility of ensuring that the instructors can do the job. This is typically done through licensure.

In contrast, adults are generally not required to attend post-secondary institutions, and if they choose to attend, they generally have more choice regarding which institution they attend (even a student with poor grades in the US typically has a number of community colleges and state colleges to choose from).

This lack of a requirement combined with the choice of institution puts significantly less pressure on the state to ensure that instructors are adequate (and, as above, it is assumed that they needn't be adequate, anyway), hence licensure is far less common.

The Role of the Academy

In the American system (and, I presume, elsewhere, as well), primary and secondary education are meant to ensure that the citizenry has a basic foundation of knowledge and skill; and primary and secondary institutions are meant to provide instruction, and have no other role in society. You attend such an institution in order to be taught, and the people teaching you have no job other than providing instruction.

By contrast, university, college, and (even) community college instructors typically have a much broader job description. The primary job of a member of the faculty at a university is generally "conduct research and produce papers". These folk are not (usually) hired to teach classes, but do so as part of training others to take their place—higher education is an apprenticeship program for researchers.

Because licensure is largely about ensuring some instructional quality (rather than content area knowledge), there is little call for university faculty to be licensed. Again, an advanced degree is usually enough to ensure that a minimal threshold is hit.

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    Teachers have plenty of other jobs than instructions. Sports, debate, music, plays, glee club. Who maintains the schools cricket pitch? A teacher. Who does the fund raising? A teacher
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 19:06
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    @NeilMeyer Okay... so what is your point? My overall argument (in that portion of a longer discussion) is that primary and secondary ed faculty are hired to teach, whereas university faculty are hired to research. Both groups of faculty have "other duties as assigned" (committee work, service, clerical work, etc), but that doesn't negate my thesis in the least. Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 19:35
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    I never said "only". I said "primarily". You seem to be arguing against something I never said. Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 19:43
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    @Karl That is simply not true at most US universities, and is quite cynical, too. At US universities, most faculty teach very few classes (my PhD advisor typically taught one quarter-long class per year; there were other faculty in the department who never taught (except for the occasional graduate seminar). Tenure is secured primarily through one's publication history; teaching evaluations tend not to have much impact. Classes at most American universities are largely taught by adjuncts, postdocs, and graduate students. Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 12:49
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    @Karl I say "most" as a hedge. If I said "all", I am sure that someone could come up with some private, for-profit, evangelical Christian institution calling itself a university as a counter-example. To the best of my knowledge, anything categorized as a doctoral or masters university on this list is likely to require research for tenure, and is going to be a major component of a faculty job description. Many (though far from all) of the bachelorette institutions also emphasize research, Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 21:34

The main reason is that tertiary students are (usually) legal adults. Much of the certification process for a primary or secondary teacher is not pedagogical as much as it is child-care-related, because teachers stand in loco parentis for students during school hours. Governments want to be able to reassure parents that it's safe to send their kids to school all day. (This isn't 100% perfect of course, but every check helps.) The purpose of this kind of certification is to ensure a minimum standard of character, legal status, and ability to manage children; not anything specifically to do with teaching. This isn't as much of a concern for tertiary education, in which students are assumed to be adults, competent to judge safety for themselves, and thus no longer require teachers to act in loco parentis. (Having known college students, this is of course in the nature of a legal fiction, but... here we are.)

Additionally, pedagogical training is seen as less important for tertiary teachers, because the students are assumed to be adults who actually want to be learning the material, so they are able and willing to struggle through some amount of sub-standard teaching on their own. This is in contrast to primary and secondary students, who may or may not be interested but are not automatically assumed to have the ability to learn things despite a bad teacher. At least in the US, with the steadily decreasing quality of secondary schools and the corresponding increased need for good introductory general education courses at the tertiary level, this is beginning to change (but not fast enough).

  • The safety and well being of students is just as important at a tertiary institutions as in primary or secondary ones. If parents don't assurances that the kids are safe at uni then the fact that they are 18 is not going to convince them to send the kid there
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 19:14
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    @NeilMeyer: Right, but, once the kid's 18, they can (theoretically, at least) go even if their parents don't want them to, an option not available earlier in life.
    – Vikki
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 19:25
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    At the tertiary level, I have no legal requirement to act in loco parentis. That is a huge difference from primary and secondary ed. Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 19:38
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    The difference is that once the student is a legal adult, the school is no longer obligated to make sure it's a safe environment for children; as a matter of law, the student is now considered competent to evaluate safety for himself. Most tertiary schools do still provide some kind of in-house security, but in loco parentis responsibilities are no longer the province of the teachers.
    – Paul Z
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 19:39
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    @nanoman A large number of my students are high school students who take classes at the college for dual enrollment credit. As a faculty of the college, I am not responsible for acting in loco parentis. For the purposes of attending my classes, they are adults. The requirements of FERPA are also different, e.g. I do not report a student's grades to their high school or parents. While they are not legal adults, they are adults for the purposes of the educational system. Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 12:52

Many of the answers given are correct, but another point of view that I haven’t seen expressed so far is that the implied premise behind your question is simply not correct. That premise being that because university professors are not “licensed teachers” according to some arbitrary technical definition of “passing an exam by some licensing body”, that means the training they undergo on the way to becoming professors is somehow less rigorous than than of licensed teachers.

Professors hold a PhD or other terminal degree. They undergo an extensive training program of 4-7 years beyond their undergraduate degree (which includes passing several exams, although that is the least of it) that prepares them to be successful in many careers including higher education. This is far more training than it takes to become a “licensed teacher”.

It may be reasonable to ask why that training that professors receive does not include a formal induction into the science of teaching but instead usually takes the form of an apprenticeship (being a TA etc), and several of the other answers here give valid arguments explaining that. But your question, if read literally, actually focuses on the licensing aspect and seems to suggest that not being “licensed” means you have somehow undergone a lower level of vetting than someone who is licensed. That suggestion is simply not true; professors undergo a much stricter vetting, it’s just that the vetting isn’t by a “licensing body” and is not referred to as “being licensed”. The difference is mostly semantic and does not translate into being less qualified to perform the actual job.

Finally, a comment by @DrakeP, who said that “as a current college student […] I can confirm that assumption [that professors know how to teach] is NOT safe” caught my attention since it seems to imply that what I said above isn’t correct. I would counter that by saying that as a former primary and secondary school student, I can confirm that the assumption that licensed teachers are effective at teaching is also not safe, and frequently incorrect.

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    There's a significant difference between being a TA for a few years and formal training in teaching. The idea that a PhD prepares someone to teach is... not a given (with the obvious exception of PhDs in education). I've had quite a few professors that were brilliant researchers but rather poor teachers. The two skills aren't necessarily correlated.
    – JS Lavertu
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 14:36
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    @JSLavertu see the last paragraph of my answer. There are also schoolteachers who are poor teachers, and more than a few schoolteachers who have poor mastery of the subjects they teach, which I imagine is a much rarer problem among professors. And there are people in all walks of life who are bad at their respective jobs. Unless you can point to evidence showing the problem is worse for professors, this argument that professors aren’t getting adequate training is unconvincing.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 16:08
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    @Allure what part of the answer implies such a thing? I don’t follow what you’re saying.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 3:29
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    @DanRomik the second paragraph says This is far more training than it takes to become a “licensed teacher”, implying that professors don't need training because they already know more than enough - sort of like if you hold a PhD in math then you don't need to prove you can pass the math SAT.
    – Allure
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 3:42
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    @Allure professors also receive far more training than beauticians or bus drivers, it doesn’t mean they can do those jobs with their professor training, it just means the training to become a professor takes much longer and requires more effort than the training to become a beautician or a bus driver.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 3:57

They do. It is just the time cost of acquiring all these skills proper is deemed too high to be applied to the entirety of academia, so instead we rely on learning by doing, somewhat ironically.

There is a simple lack of resources to have enough people with deep understanding of the subject who are also good educators. The knowledge this specific is almost forbidden - one can not simply get it from a neatly dressed providers with diplomas and certificates plastering the cabinet walls. No, one has to venture to the deep end to some complete freak who is apparently a mad genius. This is a role model we all grew up with and all aspire to. /s

On a more serious note, there are resources available, and universities do utilize academic development programmes. But they are not compulsory - in a sense, for the same reason professors do not cover all the teaching duties with their highly skilled labor and there are TAs.

Another reason there is such reliance on the teaching experience instead of a formal pedagogical education is that at secondary level and below, there are standard-issued textbooks. One of the big challenges for a tertiary-level educator is creating their own course. Now, I sincerely do not know why the guidelines on that are not provided and are not compulsory material...

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    Guidelines are not compulsory because of "academic freedom": the idea is that you should be able to teach your course however you like. If you want to ask a previous instructor how they did it, you can, but you don't have to.
    – user92734
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 15:21
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    The fact that teaching cannot get you tenure demotivates many in academia from increasing there teaching skills. You are not penalized for doing it poorly and you are not rewarded for doing it well either. No wonder it is the last thing people work on.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 15:08
  • The stereotype of the unworldly professor who has an amazing grasp of technical material but seems barely able to handle day-to-day tasks like combing their hair and purchasing new footwear probably doesn't describe the majority of professors, but might be reasonable percentage (>10%) in some fields. Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 17:18

This is also affected by a supply and demand issue in the academic labour market

The other answers here do a great job of explaining the reasons for this omission from a purely pedagogical viewpoint. To wit: since tertiary instruction is directed at adults, it requires greater focus on specialised content and less focus on specialised instruction methods. However, in addition to this reason, there is also a complementary reason rooted in the supply and demand dynamics of the academic profession.

Put in simple terms, people who have already spent years earning higher-degrees in specialised fields (Masters, PhD, etc.) generally have greater career options than people just leaving school, so they are less likely to be willing to do a long teaching certification (on top of their existing degrees) in order to obtain a teaching job. There are other attractive options for many higher-degree graduates, and while the academic job market is one attractive option, it would be less so if it required the candidate to do a three or four year teaching degree ---or some similar certification--- prior to starting.

As has been pointed out, there are some European countries that require a short "habilitation" or similar prior either to academic teaching or a senior professorship. These requirements are usually done in a circumstance where the person is already employed and being paid for their time, and they work on their certification while already employed at the university. For example, in Germany, the people working on their "habilitation" are postdocs or junior professors who are already doing paid research work. If they were instead required to attend university as (unpaid) full-time students for several more years, this would be a much less attractive option.

Even if the universities decided they wanted teaching degrees, and even if they could overcome this impediment as a whole (e.g., as higher-degree graduates become overabundant relative to demand), one can imagine that a first-mover issue that would arise for the first university that requires its incoming faculty to get a three to four-year teaching degree prior to teaching. It is likely that such a university would rule out a large proportion of possible applicants for positions, because the prospect of doing another degree is highly burdensome and there are good alternative options. This would probably cause a significant loss of quality staff for the university.

  • Are you confident about the answer? I'm under the impression most teachers are paid by their school while doing the teaching degree, and are bonded to serve the school for some time afterwards.
    – Allure
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 11:16
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    @Allure Not in the US. Indeed, my teaching certification was (more or less) an extra year of classes tacked onto my bachelors program (very few certification seeking students at my bachelors institution graduated in the normative four years), plus an extra half year of "internship" (student teaching), which I also had to pay for. And the internship was a 12 credit hour, non-degree graduate class, which cost three times what undergraduate classes cost. I paid to complete the requirements for licensure. :/ Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 12:55
  • This is not atypical in the US. You pay for your degree (most students work in addition to attending classes), and you pay for licensure. On the other hand, you are not required to teach at any particular school (or to teach at all). There are programs which will help pay for this education and certification (e.g. AmeriCorps has some programs) if you agree to teach at (for example) an inner-city school for some period of time post-certification, but my impression is that most student don't go that route. Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 12:58
  • @Allure: My understanding is that some teaching programs would have a final year where the student works in a school as a kind of "intern" (and this is not universal), but the majority of the degree would be before this. I suspect there is probably wide variation in rules across countries, schools, public vs private, etc.
    – Ben
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 14:06

Others have commented on this, but perhaps not as strongly. I do wonder if this question is an example of the Bulverism fallacy; namely asking "Why is X true" without establishing whether X is indeed true in the first place.

However, my knowledge is limited to my own circumstances, which relate to the UK; I admit I don't know the equivalent situation in the US or other countries. So I will give you the benefit of the doubt. :)

But, to answer your question, at least in my specific circumstances, it is simply not true that no qualification is required to teach at university. What is true however is that the specific qualification(s) required are not necessarily identical to the qualifications required to teach at primary education (nor should they be).

E.g. in my case, to be appointed lecturer at my current university (and I assume in most UK universities?) you are expected to either "have obtained", or "to have a reasonable expectation of obtaining within your probation period", an 'academic teaching' qualification such as the Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) or similar. This is a qualification, which, in theory at least, demonstrates your proven ability to teach in a variety of formats and methodologies, documents your experience and track record in doing so, knowledge of up-to-date pedagogical research and theory, and backing from other academics who can vouch for your application/fellowship. Furthermore, as you advance in your career towards becoming a professor, you are similarly expected to obtain 'higher' versions of such qualifications (e.g. 'Senior Fellowship', 'Principal Fellowship' etc).

Secondly, even prior to having obtained a formal qualification, in theory one does not simply walk into Mordor academia and start supervising students with no prior experience! To be considered for a teaching position, you still need to demonstrate in very practical terms that you have engaged in significant teaching and supervision in the past in your CV. For a junior position, this typically involves having engaged in private tutoring / lab practicals / presentations / designed your own modules / etc etc. (but I agree, this is not an argument against the need for a formal qualification, it's simply a more pragmatic way of addressing the issue).

  • One might also investigate whether the other half of the claim is true (particularly concerning teachers of secondary schools)
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 16:31

First of all it's worth clarifying that generally you do need to be certified in order to teach at the tertiary level. That certification is your Ph.D. (or doctorate or whatever your country calls those things).

That certificate includes a test whether you can communicate clearly because you (typically) have to write and defend your thesis to get a doctorate.

Additionally, in many locations a compulsory part of obtaining a Ph.D. degree is to be involved in tertiary education and run tutorials and seminars (or practicals). There usually is no explicit test on how well a job you did but it is part of your supervised work and some training and evaluation typically exists.

You are correct, that there are typically no formal checks on teaching ability and university teachers will typically have received no formal pedagogical training. And that is indeed different from elementary and secondary teaching certificates. Answering why that is the case, might involve historical developments and practical differences between tertiary and secondary teaching as the other answers nicely discuss. But it's also worth considering the following hypothetical question: do you think that instituting a formal pedagogy and teaching check would reduce the number of inept tertiary teachers in a way that works significantly better than the current system? Based on my personal experience I doubt it: I have observed similarly inept 'teaching' on the secondary level as I have on the university level. And I suspect that's exactly the question that a university (or country) would have to ask itself when deciding on changing the current system.

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    A PhD is a research qualification; I would hesitate to call it a "teaching qualification", despite the fact that many (but not all) PhDs will have undertaken teaching during their degrees. Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 20:24
  • I am not calling a PhD a teaching qualification. I am saying the in order to teach you need a certificate called a PhD. Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 16:06

Speaking for Ireland.

Primary teachers need a full 4-year degree in education.

Secondary teachers need a primary degree in the subject(s) being taught plus a Higher Diploma in Education - the latter takes one year.

University lecturers are generally not required to have any education training, not even a short communication course - though some will individually choose to undertake the latter at least.

I suppose the reason is "historical", i.e. that has been the way until now and despite several notorious cases of bad lecturers no systemic measures were taken to rectify this.

Why? Bureaucratic laziness, academic resistance and too docile a wider public, be it parents or employers, seem the main reasons.

Personally, I would make clear communication - oral, written, graphic and multi-media - a mandatory set of modules for anyone taking a PhD.

Yet that in itself will not bridge the education gap. I have seen clear communicators and halting communicators teach the same subject yet see that, where the latter are genuinely interested in the subject and even-handed with students, they can have better performance from their class. Especially with assignments and project work. So it's not all about clear communication.

Some people were born to teach: they love to impart knowledge to others and that love rubs off most of their students. Other people become lecturers to have access to state-of-the-art lab equipment, avoid pressures of private sector research, a cosy secure job, long summer holidays, high employer pension contribution, excellent sports facilities, sponsored conference trips to exotic resorts, playful interaction with young people and a not too moralistic human environment.

Academics have quite a strong lobby in today's political airspace. Change is more likely to come here as a result of system breakdown rather than a system defect, even one as damaging to university ethos as bad teaching unfortunately.


Well it used to be you needed a PhD. In the process of getting a PhD, you will have learned what you need to learn. Unfortunately, now a lot of classes are not taught by PhDs.

  • Just out of curiosity: what kind of schools are that, where non-academic staff are teaching, and at what level? I'm assuming this us in the US?
    – Karl
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 20:50
  • Just for comparison, in Germany, the primary subject you're incribed for is only taught by professors, and academics on tenure track. (Outside of the natural sciences, there are a lot of lecturers who retire from tenure track, at lousy pay, but they all have their doctorates.) Other subjects (language classes, sports, whatnot) generally not, but they are never graded and never turn up on your diploma.
    – Karl
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 21:06
  • 4
    PhDs are not now and have never been teaching certificates.
    – emory
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 23:45
  • @Karl FWIW, in Russia TAs often act like substitute teachers, and both universities and secondary schools would sometimes have classes conducted by someone without a PhD or a teaching certificate. Essentially the same way a professor might ask a student to prepare the talk, except that in some extreme cases, you get a PhD student running the class for half a semester (instead of more typical TA duties like grading), with their advisor formally being a lecturer for that class. This is rare for big "general-audience" courses like calculus but happens with more advanced subjects quite a bit.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 5:06
  • @Lodinn But advanced subjects are the classes profs usually love to give! Such a great possibility to show off, and of course to bring students into your group. I actually had just one prof who gave a lecture which he completely let the students (mostly phd candidates) hold. Everybody got 1.5h over the semester to introduce one special topic from his list. Of course he was always present, asking nasty questions.
    – Karl
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 21:22

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