The DVC’s Blog

Professor Tom Ward, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student Education), covers the University’s 2020 strategy, TEF, the Augar review and the Leeds Curriculum, among others, in his latest column.

As we look forward to graduation ceremonies, it is timely to acknowledge the huge effort, thought, and commitment that everyone involved in education here puts in to creating such an exceptional educational experience for all our students.

I hope everyone finds a period of time for a break at some point over the Summer.

A revealing insight into how the profile of activity of the University is changing is that through most of it there will be two and half thousand students on campus.

The growth in the number of post-graduate taught students and international students on pre-sessional programmes means that campus is increasingly busy, year-round.

Leeds Curriculum

The Leeds Curriculum has proved to be a flexible template which balances local variation and institutional commitment well.

Many of its components are being emulated at other Universities.

Ongoing analysis of how effectively it is being implemented shows widespread successful adoption – with some gaps, notably, with Broadening and visibility of the Core Programme Threads.

We’d like to be much bolder in telling applicants about it, and programmes or schools where it is not fully adopted are a constraint.

In most cases the Leeds Curriculum is in fact being effectively delivered – but it has not been articulated in that way.

Ideally, it would be good to see full adoption wherever possible – but we should certainly tick the boxes where the work has already been done.

As such, I would encourage all colleagues to engage in the Leeds Curriculum staff survey launching early next session.

Digital education

Much is happening in digital education.

We have recently committed to a LinkedIn Learning pilot subscription, which will give our students access to a wide range of short CPD courses through the LinkedIn platform.

Some of you may be familiar with its earlier form as Lynda.com. These will be of benefit in themselves, but will also spread the use of the platform and help get more of our students used to it and to some of the modern approaches to CPD.

An approach to Learner Analytics is being taken through the committee structure and has already been widely consulted on.

This will be done under a clear set of principles to ensure that how data is used is transparent to students and staff.

This is part of a range of measures being taken to address the recent increase in non-continuation and is intended to support schools and personal tutors to target attention on the students who are most at risk.

We are running a pilot of the “Top Hat” mobile voting system.

This is a device-independent mobile voting system that allows for quick responses to questions live in the classroom.

Neil Morris, our Dean for Digital Education, will explain more about this in another article in this Bulletin.

University Strategy from 2020

The Chief Operating Office, Tim Peakman, is leading a process to develop the University Strategy post 2020 alongside continuing to deliver the 2015-2020 strategy.

We are moving into a phase of wider consultation on this, starting with five staff engagement events on the June 25, and July 4, 8, 11, and 12.

These will explain some of the thinking to date and are planned to provide space for some discussions.

External environment

Brexit has now consumed all synonyms for uncertain and alarming so, lexicon exhausted, I’ll leave it there.

Between this being written and this being read, we expect the TEF pilot outcomes to be with us.

Perhaps more significant than the outcomes, we have been going through a substantial ‘lessons learned’ exercise about the experience of doing the subject-level pilots.

I’d like to reiterate my thanks to all involved in that exercise and add to that thanks for the detailed input into the lessons learned exercise.

Unsurprisingly, much of that is about how we resource this in future, but there have been other valuable insights into how we measure the effect of what we do educationally, and how we can adapt more of our processes to be TEF-friendly.

There is no avoiding the concerns about the value and robustness of the whole project, nor the concerns about how much effort goes into it.

One – substantial – consolation is that, as those involved with the first institutional TEF will attest, subsequent exercises will not be as extraordinarily difficult as the first time.

The independent review of TEF led by Dame Shirley Pearce is expected to report to the Secretary of State “by Summer 2019”.

We have had multiple opportunities to provide input to this review, much of which has been aimed at pushing it back to a single clear purpose of being an enhancement tool for Universities.

Methodological problems aside, much of the difficulties thrown up by TEF boil down to ideas designed for one purpose being used for multiple purposes.

The review may get rather lost in the noisy political environment, but it is hoped that it meets a considered audience.

The Augar review is now out, and has the potential to change the sector in fundamental ways.

It is a thoughtful and complex attempt to answer difficult questions about the sustainability of the system following the Office for National Statistics change in the treatment of the student loan book.

Our colleagues in Further Education and Colleges, with good reason, welcome the prospect of some relaxation of the huge squeeze of the last few years.

In higher education the fear is that some of the eye-catching and easy to implement headlines – a large reduction in the cap on home university fee, for example – may be remembered long after the complex and difficult to implement details, on how widening participation could continue, and top-up funding to maintain the unit of resource on average, are forgotten.

The University has been doing its best to plan to navigate this uncertain future while maintaining the tangible expression of our ambition in the form of strategic funding streams particularly.

It does so from a position of great strength and stability.

Whatever happens to the review, the difficult issues it was asked to address will remain and will shape our future.

My thanks to all who work so hard in education here, and I hope that everyone can suppress their inner Stakhanovite enough to have a proper break at some point.