The work begins

So, trying to find an anchor for the ideas. Today has taken me to old Hefce and HEA reports. It seems clear that there is a recognition that there has been a loss of quality of experience as UK HE has expanded compared to times before the expansion. But reading these reports, this issue is somewhat ‘sugared’. Current graduates have very little to go on in terms of experience of what HE once was, save for close friends or family members accounts of classes of eight or ten running for entire afternoons. So students will be moved to the heart of a much bigger system, but one that aims to serve employers more effectively as graduate employment statistics become key performance indicators.  We can’t go back. But can we re-engineer or even begin to re-imagine what the experience could be? The only other option is to continue on.

One of my key explorations remains the viability of a two-year ‘accelerated’ BA (Hons). An example from my own subject field can be seen at Ravensbourne where they run ‘fast-track’ routes within a standard three year programme. I aim to discuss this in more depth with staff at Ravensbourne soon. But then why not take a Foundation Degree? It may be that we still value ‘(Hons)’. But is that true for employers, specifically in the media industries? Here, employers are swift to point out what qualities they want in students, but don’t specify Hons, but identify ‘graduateness’. Questions arise of the capability of 18 year old to take fast-track’ programmes, but these concerns come from thinking within our current models of delivery coupled to curriculum content that is focused upon subject-specific knowledge and skills rather than focusing on more transferable qualities; dealing with uncertainty, creative thinking, problem-solving, leadership, group dynamics etc.

Back to the research databases.

Here goes…

This post hopes to draw together some contextual thoughts and musings to frame the developing focus of this blog/project. As such, it may get messy. I’m using the blog to get things out of my head for consideration.

Key thoughts (for further refinement, comments welcome):

UK HE is on the cusp of significant changes and will have to innovate in a variety of ways. The title of the recent white paper, ‘Students at the Heart of the system’ (to be considered in later posts), suggests that students are not yet at the heart of the system. What might HE look like if the student is at the heart of the system and moreover, what of the system itself? On this issue of systems, I was recently reminded of a famous McLuhan quote; ‘We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us’ (Understanding Media, 1964) Similarly, I’ve been reading ‘You are not a Gadget’ by Jaron Lanier. Lanier discusses the concept of software ‘lock-in’; ‘The process of significantly changing software in a situation in which a lot of other software is dependent on it is the hardest thing to do. So it almost never happens’ (P.7). If there is to be innovation in HE we may need to consider ‘lock-in’ but move beyond peripheral ‘tinkering at the edges’ and dare to be a little more iconoclastic in our thinking.

My thoughts on these issues are longstanding and were galvanized over the course of this year through working with Hyper Island on the accreditation of their first UK long-term pilot programme. The Cert HE Interactive Media Design and Management is 32 weeks long and 180 credits. 120 at level 5 (year 2) and 60 at level 6 (year 3).

This programme has been designed in very close consultation with industry partners. In many ways Hyper’s methodology is innovative through its synthesis of methods and approaches many in HE may  have either lost sight of or cannot employ due to scale/economics/timetabling/modular structures. To this, Hyper Island stress genuine employer collaboration. The voice of industry is not a peripheral concern. My key interest here is how Hyper Island methods have evolved outside of the typical structures of a university. Could such innovation happen in a UK university? Accrediting this programme was fascinating because it challenged and tested standard UK HE quality assurance regulations precisely because it put the student at ‘the heart of the system’.

So what of the UK HE system? How much can be changed, are we hopelessly locked-in and are our current long established processes, shapes and tools useful to withstand increasingy uncertainties? We may here consider our own personal responses to change as well as how large, complex institutions respond. Tim Harford in a recent TED talk argues for success coming through an evolutionary process of trial and error as opposed to the ‘God Complex’ approach; deciding the solution then applying it; a top-down approach. Much of Harford’s talk is ubiquitous in terms of responses to uncertainty and change, but worth a watch in order to at least consider your own practice. Applying Harford’s ideas to HE; how comfortable are academics, universities and our QA processes with ‘trail and error’ when considering long-standing practices:

·         Should it generally take three years to study a first degree?

·         Why does the academic year run from October to May?

·         Why have a grade classification system?

·         How do we address employability in a meaningful way?

·         How far will academics go in innovating and how might this impact upon research?