A couple of HEFCE and HESA news items

Firstly last week, it was announced that here would be further changes to regulation of higher education, with HEFCE taking on a regulatory oversight and coordination role.

HEFCE will be:

  • developing a register of higher education provision in England 
  • consulting on proposed revisions to HEFCE’s Financial Memorandum 
  • operating of a new system of specific-course designation for alternative providers
  • implementing further changes to student number controls, including extending them to alternative providers from 2014-15

In other news HESA released employability data for 2011-12 graduates, showing that “Overall, 90.8% of full-time first degree leavers were in employment and/or further study six months after graduating”. It’s pleasing to note an improvement in the value our employability indicator for this year, and we might expect that the implementation of Staffordshire Graduate could in future years, push this further up. Clearly this is an area that needs more work.

Also HESA provided information on indicators of annual research output. Interesting here is the number of PhDs we award compared to the amount of QR income we receive. As we know, QR is  low for this university, however, we do seem to use it extremely effectively when looking at the ratio of PhDs to QR income. Of course, other universities with significant QR will be using it for more than studentships and may have significant capital outlay as well, but this still looks like we are using this fund as efficiently as possible.

Are you an Oligarch, an Innovator or a Zombie?

A short thought piece from PA Consulting proposes that less money, fewer students and increased competition  might produce  three types of university.

  • The oligarchs, a small super league of large, research-intensive universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, UCL and Manchester operating on a global level
  • The innovators, those institutions that are developing enterprising ways of doing business and engaging with students, employers and other client groups, and hence will be able to grow new sources of revenues
  • The zombies, those institutions that are unable or unwilling to invest in change and hence risk finding themselves in a spiral of decline, characterised by continuous cost-cutting and retrenchment.

As always the oligarchs seem to be the winners, but there’s a huge area to compete in around work based, part time, flexible or employer engaged learning, as well as creating a distinctive offer for on campus students. After all, no-one want to be :


My reflections on Staff Fest 2013

For the last two weeks the University has been engaged in Staff Fest – a fortnight of activities with the overall heading of “New Horizons”. Lots to choose from, including snake handling, macaroon making and the Motorsport team’s pitstop challenge. This blog article will not cover any of those sadly – I don’t like snakes, can’t bake, and didn’t fancy trying to do quick wheel changes in a suit and tie – but here’s a few notes on the events I did go to.

University Teaching and Learning Conference

With all the work that has been done over the last couple of years where we have looked in detail at how we provide feedback to students, the development of our Feedback Academy and the use of “7 Principles of Feedback”, it was opportune to title this conference “Transforming Assessment and Feedback: Strategies that Work”.

After introductions we saw highlights from each of the four faculties on innovation in assessment and feedback practice –

ACT – Adrian Gurney – an online system for submission of large files, which can’t be handled by BlackBoard, for assessment and marking. Also linked to attendance monitoring.

ACT – Sita Bali – the experience of marking and providing feedback electronically to distance learning postgraduate students

ACT – John Holden who then described a great system of using trios of staff and students to create a dialogue when critiquing work

BEL – Robert Curtis demonstrated the use of YouTube in assessment for Business School students, where they film their own assessment and make it available electronically for assessment

BEL – Katy Vigurs discussed how continuous ongoing formative assessment was done with part time p/g education students though the use of linking Blackboard discussion boards to homework activity, and stressed the need for ground work and for students to have time to complete the task, and staff time to feedback

CES – Russel Campion described changes to a postgraduate research module taken by international students and how the use of surgeries and reviews had significantly reduced plagiarism issues and improved pass rates.

CES – Paul Orsmond looked at the role of curriculum design to allow students to use their feedback and the importance of giving students the opportunity to develop their own self feedback practices

HS – Val Nixon looked at the use of of providing numerical scores rather than written feedback for a number of assignments.

HS – Audio feedback was discussed, and its benefits in formative feedback and how it could be of particular benefit to students with learning disabilities

The keynote speaker of the day was Chris Rust, of Oxford Brookes, who considered “Reconceptualising Feedback”. Here are a few of my takeaways from that talk:

  • QAA have always made recommendations about the need to improve feedback.
  • The NSS leads to an expectation of more feedback,
  • The conclusion has to be that we don’t do it very well!
  • A social constructivist model should be used, the principle of this is that knowledge will be shaped and evolved through participation with a community of practice.
  • Fear of NSS – too many senior staff in UK HE just want more feedback, more quickly! It’s not going to work.
  • Ensuring that all student groups engage in class discussion is an equal opportunities issue.

A number of these link to other pieces of work we are running on retention, around a sense of belonging in the academic sphere, and on success and attainment of different student groups.

The afternoon sessions were run as an “unconference”. One that I attended was on retention of students with mental health issues, which led to a discussion of anxiety and stress among students, the difference between the two, and the possible need to develop some form of “psychological literacy” as well as digital and information literacy among new students. The second session I attended was a debate on MOOCs. I think everyone knows my view, but there were interesting questions on why this technology and why now?

University Leadership Conference – Creating a Coaching Culture

A fascinating day led by Julie Star and Jane Townsend of Starr Consulting, looking at how coaching can be embedded in our approaches to leadership.

A few takeaways:

Coaching skills are interpersonal skills.

  • constructive feedback
  • building rapport
  • effective questioning
  • focused listening
  • structure of conversation

What coaching won’t do:

  • eliminate the need for leadership
  • substitute other motivating factors
  • won’t impact on the actively disengaged
  • construct sound business plans
  • lessen the fears of people in the short term

the key thrust was about changing the conversation – and understanding the difference between a directive manager and a coaching manager.


Leadership Masterclass with Tom Kennie

A great session, really appreciated by those who were there.

Some of the ideas can be found in his paper on “ACADEMIC LEADERSHIP Dimensions, Dysfunctions and Dynamics” which can be downloaded from here.

Tom got us talking about the the change we anticipated in the future, at university level and at unit or faculty level. What about the amount, the pace and the predictability? Inevitably, we were all expecting more change, more quickly and with less predictability, which bears our many of the articles about the changes and challenges affecting HE

There was emphasis on developing a culture that had an innovative centre and that for the future, academic innovation was critical (this links nicely with the short thought piece recently from PA Consulting suggesting there will be three type of university in future: oligarchs, innovators and zombies.)

We discussed the possibility of the all rounder leader becoming overwhelmed, and how to seek the right balance between focus on: research; teaching; enterprise and academic citizenship.

The photo below shows us how to herd cats….


Faculty of Business Education and Law L&T Conference

I was really pleased to be able to lead a session at this conference on the partnership with students on our reputation. We looked in detail at two of the recent league tables, and considered the challenges that face us in the future.
There’ll be a lot more detail in future coming round to all schools and faculties in the near future.

Academy of Teaching Excellence Fellows Networking Event

A really useful session, not just for the presentations, but for the discussion about how this group could be instrumental in driving change. Interestingly this discussion took place in the week that the Higher published an article on research into the lack of reward or recognition in the sector for teaching and learning.

In conclusion – Staff Fest 2013 was a great success, and all credit to Marj Spiller and her team for running it!