Comment: The DVC’s Blog

Professor Tom Ward, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student Education), focuses on a refreshed outline for education strategy, gives an update on Minerva, improving accessibility, and others in his last column of the year.

As we look forward to the Student Education Conference 2020, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge all the effort, thought, and commitment that so many involved in education here put in to supporting the educational experience for all our students.

Portal update

Because of the continued instability of the platform that Minerva runs on, this has not been an easy few months for those committed to student education.

After enormous effort and thought, we have established that the safest route out of the very difficult situation presented by the fundamental instability in the current Minerva platform is to migrate onto a stable cloud-based platform.

This change will take place between December 13 and 17. I know this will present us with a host of other difficulties, but every other time considered for the migration presents even greater problems or risks.

Research-based learning

The Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence, under the leadership of Tina Overton, has hosted a series of highly successful events aimed at sharing practice in pedagogical research.

This work is building a large group of academics who are able to bring high quality pedagogical research into their own approaches to education.

The second round of Student Education Catalyst Funding projects are underway, supporting student-led innovation in education.

This is another instance of the depth and authenticity of the Leeds partnership that lies at the heart of the University.

Online learning

After a long period of planning and development, the first Leeds-Pearson Online Distance Learning programme ‘Engineering Management MSc’ launched in September.

This runs on a ‘carousel’ model with numbers building up through multiple entry dates, and is off to a healthy start, including learners from at least 15 countries already enrolled.

A great deal of work by colleagues in the Digital Education Service and the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences has gone in to getting us to this point, and some key aspects of the delivery model, including the emergence of a real online community, has started well.

Accessibility

As you may know, new legislation was recently introduced about web accessibility, which will impact us all.

The legislation requires us to make our website, systems and online content accessible by September 2020.

These changes will enhance the student education offer at Leeds and are entirely aligned with our inclusive teaching practice baselines, further information about which can be found on the new inclusive teaching practice website.

The resources on the site will help you to design, teach and assess inclusively as well as providing you with advice on creating digitally accessible content – which can also be found by going directly to the Digital Accessibility website.

It will also help you to create inclusive learning and teaching environments and understand some of the barriers inherent to many common practices in higher education.

Further guidance and support for making your learning and teaching materials digitally accessible will be issued through 2020.

Strategic focus

Over the summer, the Directors of Student Operations and Opportunity, Catherine Lorigan and Christina Edgar and the head of Quality Assurance, Jenny Lyon, led some work aimed at bringing a sharper focus to the development of education strategy.

This has crystalized in the form of five thematic areas:

Portfolio, led by Martin Levesley (Pro-Dean from Engineering and Physical Sciences), Isobel Whitehouse and Abiha Khan (Education Officer at LUU).

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Curriculum, led by Laura Treadgold (Pro-Dean from Medicine and Health), Louise Powell and Abiha Khan (Education Officer).

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Student Experience, led by Simon Lightfoot (Pro-Dean from Social Sciences), Greg Miller, Amy Wells (Welfare Officer) and Lydia Evans (Activities Officer).

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Student Success, led by Paul Taylor (Pro-Dean from Engineering and Physical Sciences), Chris Warrington, Chloé Elliot (Equality and Diversity Officer) and Lauren Huxley (Union Affairs Officer).

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Community, led by Anne Tallontire (Pro-Dean from Environment) and Jenny Hamlin and Cat Fairbairn (Community Officer).

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In each case student representative voices will be brought in, with close partnership working with Leeds University Union (LUU).

The LUU Exec team said they are:

Excited to see the new opportunities for effective partnership working that arise from aligning activity under these themes.

Through this academic year and next we will be making some changes to our structures that sit under Taught Student Education Board to best support this work, and to maintain high quality governance and assurance.

Alongside this work, the Chief Operating Officer Tim Peakman is leading the institutional development of the University Strategy from 2020, and we are now in an active period of consultation on this based on a draft document in circulation.

Forward glance

Externally we are – as usual – in a time of great uncertainty. By the time you read this, we will either know the result of the general election or it will be pending.

The outcome of the Pearce review was with government some time ago, but we still do not know how or if it will be acted on.

Our own TEF subject-level pilot outcomes, including the challenging process of creating submissions for the first time, have been useful and will inform the process for next time.

The Augar Higher Education Funding review is also in an ambiguous state, made public but variously talked up or down in the press.

One way or another, quite fundamental questions about the sustainability of the system, the partial funding of research, and the handling of the student loan book will have to be addressed over the next few years, whatever form the new government takes.

As ever, the best thing for us to do in a period of intense turbulence and uncertainty is to maintain a clear focus on the mission of the University to provide research-based education of the highest quality to our students, and to do so within a clear ethical framework.

After a difficult term, I wish you all a restful break – and the feeling:

That even the weariest river

Winds somewhere safe to sea.