A new Academy but an old problem…

The new Higher Education Academy has recently been launched through a series of events across the country. The Academy brings together the former Institute of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE) and its concern for the promotion and recognition of professional standards, including sponsorship of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS), with the network of Subject Centres across the UK which comprised the former Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) and which support and promote developments in practice through their engagement with subject communities. It also incorporates members of the former National Coordination Team (NCT) who, together with the Subject Centres, are supporting pedagogic development projects funded through competitive bidding to the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL), now in its fifth and final phase. The Academy will, largely through its Subject Centres, work closely with the new Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLS) which are soon to be established through a competitive bidding process. It is also engaged in a number of broad-based, national development initiatives, e.g. on external examining, on e-learning, on employability, and on widening participation.

The new Chief Executive, Professor Paul Ramsden, joins the Academy from his previous position as Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) at the University of Sydney and is already well known for his approaches to surveying aspects of the student experience, which have informed approaches taken at Brookes, and his highly influential books Learning to Teach in Higher Education and Learning to Lead in Higher Education. He is quickly establishing an emphasis in the Academy on enhancement of higher education through better understanding of all aspects of the student experience, and on policy and practice informed and influenced by evidence from research.

Funded by the UK Funding Councils and through institutional subscription, the Academy is a significant new player on the higher education landscape and brings with it opportunities for Brookes to learn from others, to gain access to resources, and to contribute the evidence from its own research to influence wider developments. It is important that we engage effectively with it from the outset to support our work on enhancing the learning experiences of our own students.

The Academy can be welcomed as a very positive affirmation of government support for higher education. Indeed, Dr Kim Howells, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, spoke in glowing support of the Academy and its ambitions at the London launch event. But what one hand gives the other takes away and at a recent meeting of the All Party Universities Group at Westminster, Prof John Tarrant, Vice-Chancellor of Huddersfield University gave a graphic account of the current shortfall in funding to support learning and teaching as evidence of this. Of the current £3,487 government and fee funding per student on Humanities and Social Sciences programmes, 43% is spent at Huddersfield on ‘libraries, IT, administration and central costs and premises’. This leaves £1,988 per student available to teaching departments from which 13% goes to ‘non-staffing, departmental costs’. Of the £1,730 that remains for staffing, 20% is used for non-teaching staff leaving just £1,384 from the original £3,487 for teaching – or, in effect, a true student to staff ratio of 32.5 : 1! Representatives of other universities present at the meeting agreed that such apportioning of income was probably typical of the sector… and perhaps more generous than some! To this current under-funding of teaching in England, of course, must be added an estimated £1.6 billion current shortfall of teaching capital in England.

This, then, is the reality. Great play made of enhancement – which we will all sign up for, an agenda for expanding participation in higher education­ – likewise, but abject under-funding of teaching. This is the context in which we at Brookes must draw from our culture of ‘student centredness’ and of innovation and creativity in our approaches to learning, teaching and assessment, and endeavour to ensure effective and efficient use of our time, capabilities and energy in supporting students in their learning. Never more important have been decisions on practice based on evidence and dissemination of evidence to inform practice – a vital role for this journal.

In this issue of BeJLT, we sample from the rich and growing vein of pedagogic development at Brookes and the evidence which this provides to inform practice. The topics covered reflect the range of issues that require our attention. Diane Seymour from the Business School looks at the role of assessment criteria at postgraduate level, Paul Catley from the School of Social Sciences and Law describes a particular application of blended learning in improving student performance, while Katy Newell-Jones, Debora Osborne and Debbie Massey from the School of Health and Social Care discuss the creation of a ‘community of practice’ approach in response to concerns about academic skills development. Nina Becket of the HE Academy Subject Centre for Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism, which is hosted by Brookes, and Maureen Brookes from the Business School discuss the impact of and relevance to quality enhancement of different approaches to evaluation.

A paper from Jude Carroll of OCSLD explores the effectiveness of approaches to the problem of plagiarism, experiences in using problem-based learning are assessed by Judith Piggott from the Business School, and the issue of pedagogic research ethics is discussed by Glauco De Vita and Teresa Smallbone, also from the Business School. Richard Francis of the Media Workshop and Greg Benfield of OCSLD pose questions about the future directions of e-learning at Brookes, while Alan Jenkins of Westminster Institute of Education reports his discussions with colleagues on the opportunities which were gained to enhance teaching and research links through re-approval of programmes for delivery in semesters.

We hope that such variety offers something for everyone. We also hope that it will prompt you to write for future issues of BeJLT -to share with others the work you are doing and so contribute to our understanding of, and our ability to enhance, the student experience.

Clive Robertson
Chair BeJLT Editorial Committee
Head of Learning and Teaching Development

January 2005

Posted in Editorial

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