Tag Archives: Higher Education

Minister sets the scene for Higher Education: some brief comments

On the 9th September 2015 Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, delivered a speech entitled ‘Higher education: fulfilling our potential’. The speech begins to lay out the direction of travel after a period during the coalition where there was much thinking and little action.
jo johnson blog
Click image to view a larger version.

Word clouds are a crude device, but it is interesting that the big words are:

Students

“Students are the primary source of income for undergraduate study, but their interests are insufficiently represented in our structures and systems.”

It seems that now students are customers they should have more representation. Yet students do not generally see themselves in this way. Representation is not quite the same as partnership, which, although more challenging, would perhaps result in much more debate about what a university education should be all about.

Providers

“To ensure students have real choice that reflects their diverse needs, we must continue to open up the higher education market and put in place a regulatory framework that reflects today’s challenges.”

The idea of the development of new or much modified regulatory institutions that would, for example, take on the validation of degrees so that new providers do not need to partner with existing institutions would indeed open up the market. The question is, what sort of regulation, and how would it affect existing institutions? Martin Paul Eve of Birkbeck is clear in his blog that the aim is a huge financial shake-up of the whole system, using the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) as a key tool .

Participation

That is, widening participation (WP), remains firmly on the agenda with a plan to provide much better data so that work can be done to address issues around specific underrepresented groups. It is good news that WP is not being side-lined, which many thought might happen.

Teaching

There were some harsh words about the perceived variability of teaching quality in the speech;

“This patchiness in the student experience within and between institutions cannot continue. There is extraordinary teaching that deserves greater recognition. And there is lamentable teaching that must be driven out of our system. It damages the reputation of UK higher education and I am determined to address it.”

He went on to say;

“The new framework will aim to give students more information about the actual teaching they will receive, drive up student engagement with the learning process and reward universities that do most to stretch young – and also not so young – minds.”

On that last point, Johnson mentioned mature students in his speech but, as Mark Leach points out in his WonkHE blog, there is no reference to part time study. Indeed, there is nothing on postgraduate study either. The now much vaunted Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is not one of the big words in the word cloud, because as yet there is no clarity at all as to what TEF will look like or how it will be managed. There is a lot of discussion. A Green Paper is due in the autumn (that is, by the end of December), so there is very little time to move from muddle to clarity, and, if other sources are right, to get TEF1 in place for 2016 and to produce metrics that inform funding decisions. These decisions would then allow some institutions to raise fees in line with inflation, based on what can only be a very crude measure of teaching quality.

 

Anne Qualter

Being Strategic and Collaborative in Academia

For academic staff, being strategic in their career planning and being part of effective collaborative networks appears to be essential ingredients for a successful academic endeavour. At the Centre for Lifelong Learning, as part of our academic development remit we recently held two workshops exploring these broad topics with groups of academic staff from the university’s three faculties.

The workshops were led by Professor Shelda Debowski  who has extensive knowledge and experience in academic and senior management roles in higher education.

DebowskiThe workshops were delivered in a participatory manner and Liverpool academics were keen to share their experiences of making strategic decisions in their careers as well as how they manage and develop their collaborative networks in relation to their research and professional activities.

Professor Debowski provided an in-depth analysis of the higher education sector based on her experiences in both academic and senior management roles. This clarified the expectations stemming from academic and funding institutions and supported workshop participants towards reflecting on and sharing their own perceptions of higher education whilst recognising at the same time the role they play in this highly competitive and global environment.

Both workshops provided insights to good practice in planning academic careers and participating academic staff discussed disciplinary and interdisciplinary practices regarding strategic career planning and collaborative work in teaching and research.

Summaries from each workshop together with key observations by Professor Debowski are available in the videos provided below. In addition, Professor Debowski offered her top suggestions for being strategic in making choices for an academic career and for establishing and maintaining effective collaborations.

 

Resources from the workshops

Short video overview of being a Strategic Academic: https://stream.liv.ac.uk/yphvjj9y

Short video overview of establishing and maintaining collaborative relationships: https://stream.liv.ac.uk/tqg7rnkv

Click links to open online pdf documents:

Tips to Develop your Academic Strategy

Tips for Successful Collaboration

 

Dr Christos Petichakis – c.petichakis@liv.ac.uk

Administrators in African universities

Along with Dr Brian Jennings of the Ghana Christian University College, I was asked by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) to design and deliver a programme for mid-level administrators in African Universities so that they can be better able to support learning and teaching within their universities. This came about from the ACU’s recognition that the role of administrators is often undervalued and they usually have little access to training opportunities, especially accredited training.

All too often legitimate concerns such as this are addressed by ‘running workshops’, where good learning may well occur, but where there is little evidence of any subsequent impact. We decided to design this programme so participants would develop a change project to be implemented in their universities.

We ran a week-long programme in London for 13 administrators drawn from six African countries. During this time we facilitated input and discussion on key issues of learning and teaching such as Quality Assurance, Assessment & Feedback and Technology Enhanced Learning. In addition, there were sessions on professional skills such as communication and giving presentations. There were plenty of lively discussions and finding of commonalities and differences across the continent. One interesting discussion centred on the notion of ‘best practice’ and how this cultivated the idea that ‘best practice’ somehow existed and was to be found elsewhere, often in the West. In turn this can lead to a search for some ideal and so often overlooks good local practice and development suited to local contexts.

We covered project planning from a strengths-based perspective. This turned out to be the right approach as these administrators could often be categorised as having lower status roles compared to their academic colleagues, despite their skills, qualifications and contributions. Peer feedback helped to ensure that projects met the key criteria of being concisely described, manageable in a three month time frame and able to deliver evidence of impact. Projects could be team-based or faculty wide; examples include moving from a paper based to electronic reporting system and implementation of a systematic staff planning process. In order to complete the programme participants must implement their projects in the next three months and critically reflect on their learning.

To support their work and offset the risks of isolation on return they will each recruit a mentor in their own university and are encouraged to sign up to the programme’s LinkedIn group for discussing issues and sharing progress.

In addition, the programme will be accredited by the Staff and Education Development Association and formally evaluated so that we can assess the impact of the programme – what were the outcomes and evidence and from that, and shall we run it again?

The week was a great success, plenty of enthusiasm, learning and laughter, now let’s see how the projects go…

Ian Willis

Excellence in learning and teaching

One of the recommendations from a recent Internal Periodic Review of Educational Developments was that we should blow our trumpet more, letting University colleagues know how well we can support them in learning and teaching (L&T). So, I am taking this thinly disguised and uncharacteristic opportunity to do just that.

Ray Land and George Gordon have recently published a report on an HEA funded small scale international study on Teaching Excellence Initiatives. In it they debate teaching excellence and how it has broken out of the confines of individual HEIs to be linked to discussions of individual performance.

Land and Georges’ study looked at practice in promoting excellence in L&T. They acknowledge that excellence itself is contested and the quality of teaching, especially the difference between satisfactory and excellent, is hard to judge. HEI initiatives can, they argue, be described as moving from novice to expert, something like the way the UK Professional Standards Framework is described in four levels, and how our own ULTRA Framework is articulated.

The study points out that most UK, Australian and NZ Universities (at least) encourage or require academics to take a course in teaching as part of probation, thus aiming to ensure competence in teaching. Many HEI’s offer rewards for excellence in the form of prizes or funding to develop practice or even pay increments (proficiency level). Going beyond, advanced proficiency including teaching and expert status is rewarded with prizes, citations such as Vice Chancellor awards, National teaching Fellowships (we have five at Liverpool) or Principal Fellows (four at Liverpool) are classed as high recognition.

Continue reading Excellence in learning and teaching

Critical perspectives on methodology in pedagogic research

Does the way in which we conduct research into higher education matter all that much? For instance, research conducted by John Biggs on constructive alignment has had a significant influence on the sector. But did the way that he conduct this research affect the nature of his contribution to knowledge, or the uses to which it could be put?

I have recently written a research paper that addresses these issues. The paper was published in today within the Special Issue of the journal, Teaching in Higher Education, (Volume 20, Issue 4, 2015). The journal itself has now been in existence for 20 years, and this issue of the journal marks out the anniversary. The Special Issue comprises an article from each of the current Executive Editors of the journal, along with contributions from two former editors, Professor Sue Clegg and Professor Jon Nixon. Taken together the contributions highlight a range of different perspectives and approaches to research.

My contribution stems from a critical realist perspective, and argues that the approach taken to pedagogic research does indeed influence the characteristics of the knowledge that emerges, and the uses to which it can be put. There has been a longstanding assumption that higher education represents an emancipatory endeavour, but recent changes in the sector have emphasised the way that higher education can lead to personal advantage rather than to the fulfilment of wider social responsibilities. The study considers ways in which methodology in pedagogic research subsequently affects the sector’s emancipatory potential. There will be many ways in which student learning is affected.

Continue reading Critical perspectives on methodology in pedagogic research