At the beginning of a new year, are there reasons to be cheerful?
Welcome to the first of my SEDA blogs. I will be writing 15 blogs over the next calendar year and look forward to hearing some of your views on issues relating to teaching and learning.
In the aftermath of Brexit and the introduction of the Higher Education Bill, the background music within the sector has of late – perhaps understandably – tended towards a rather bleak pessimism. I’d like to kick-off my series of blogs, therefore, with some reasons to be cheerful…
Lets be honest, the last decade has seen a series of seismic shocks within the higher education landscape. The introduction of student fees has driven a change in the relationship with students, concerns about the commodification of HE and a shift towards the notion of students as ‘consumers’. The dramatic increase in student numbers has placed intense pressure on university’s resources, and difficulties in maintaining a healthy staff-student ratio. A gradual decline in direct government funding for universities, increases in pension costs, and increased global competition for international students has resulted in a ‘perfect storm’- one exacerbated by recent government policies on immigration. The introduction of the National Student Survey and University League Tables have further intensified the development of a competitive HE market place. The arrival of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has been the subject of widespread concern in terms of the appropriateness of the metrics employed, the potential cost implications, and the potential reputational damage resulting from an ‘Olympics-style’ gold, silver and bronze rating system. Subject-level ratings are on the near horizon and we will soon see the creation of a new Office for Students, and a new quality audit regime.
Seen in this context, the current trend towards pessimism about the future of higher education might seem entirely justified. But I am not pessimistic. Instead, I believe there are real reasons to be cheerful. One reason is the incredible resilience of the sector. It has seen many challenges in the past decade, but has met them all head-on and succeeded in maintaining a peerless global reputation for quality. I have worked in the sector for more than 20 years and have been struck by the enthusiasm of my colleagues, their passion, and their expertise in supporting a world-class student experience. I have witnessed many truly inspirational examples of teaching by academics who are highly expert in the pedagogies they employ. Professional services staff also frequently ‘go the extra mile’ to ensure students receive the information, resources and support they need. The professionalism of our colleagues will help to ensure that the sector is well-placed to overcome whatever challenges it is faced with, though we may need to work in different ways, employ different pedagogical strategies, and build new relationships with our students and other stakeholder groups, including parents, employers, alumni and policy makers.
The TEF has not been universally welcomed. However, it is likely to drive a renewed emphasis on high quality teaching and student-centred pedagogies. It may also result in a re-balancing of the relationship between research and teaching that some might argue is overdue. Many universities have invested in new infrastructure (e.g. virtual learning environments, wireless networks and other online resources), exciting new blended learning strategies, new buildings, (including dynamic teaching spaces that promote active and collaborative learning) and building new relationships with diverse external partners. ‘Big Data’, including learner analytics, are already transforming (often in a positive and exciting way) the way in which we make decisions, monitor student progress and support student engagement and achievement. Concerns about social inclusion and mobility have driven a dramatic diversification of the student body (including students from disadvantaged backgrounds) and the introduction of policies aimed at ensuring the provision of inclusive pedagogies, learning materials and approaches to assessment. The renewed emphasis on pedagogies that promote effective student engagement, and a fundamental shift in the way we measure the ‘value-added’ aspect of higher education via metrics of ‘Learning Gain’ will ensure that teaching and learning remain at the heart of dialogues in the sector, and I expect that SEDA will continue to play a crucial role in facilitating them.
15 Top Tips for Student-Centred Teaching
Dr Adam Longcroft spent more than 20 years teaching undergraduate and post-graduate students at the University of East Anglia in the fields of landscape archaeology, history, education and professional studies before joining Anglia Ruskin University as the new Deputy Head of Anglia Learning & Teaching in August this year. He served as UEA’s Academic Director for Taught Programmes for 5 years – a role in which he had a major influence over the University’s approach to teaching and learning and enhancing the student experience. In his new role Adam is focused on enhancing the provision of continuing professional development for academic colleagues at ARU. Adam won an individual award for teaching excellence in history from the HEA in 2005, and is both a National Teaching Fellow (2007) and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2015).
We invite you to join the discussion using the comment box below in response to Adam’s question.
- Do you agree that there are reasons to be cheerful?
- What are you most optimistic about?
- How do you think recent changes will open-up new opportunities or drive further enhancements in teaching and learning?