Providing opportunities for students from a very wide range of backgrounds

Published: 13 March 2017 at 10:21

As a university we celebrate the way in which we provide opportunities for an outstanding higher education for students from a very wide range of backgrounds - this is a vital part of who we are as a university.

This post concentrates on matters related to education, both internal and external to ARU.

I open with a success story which is highly relevant to our educational mission. 

We all are aware that there are gaps in the higher education outcomes between different student groups. These gaps in attainment and progression to further study and employment persist even when background characteristics and prior attainment are taken into account. HEFCE has announced the launch of the ‘Addressing barriers to student success’ programme to tackle the causes of these disparities. The projects are focussed on those student groups affected by differential outcomes highlighted in previous HEFCE research, including black and minority ethnic students, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, disabled students (including those presenting with mental health issues and specific learning difficulties), mature students and part-time students.

We were delighted to hear that Anglia Learning and Teaching have been awarded over £100,000 as part of a successful collaborative bid to HEFCE to develop the strategic and systematic use of active collaborative learning methods to address barriers to student success.  

Together with Nottingham Trent University and the University of Bradford, the funding will enable us to scale up our successful use of active collaborative learning methods, such as team-based learning (TBL).  While TBL benefits all students in terms of increased engagement, retention, attainment, and progression, it has been shown to be an inclusive approach which enhances the learning of a diverse range of students, with those in the lowest quartile benefitting the most.  

This award follows swiftly on the earlier success by our Lord Ashcroft International Business School in obtaining over £37,000 of Catalyst funding in November to extend their use of team-based/collaborative learning for postgraduate and professional learners with input from employers.

Our commitment to enabling all our students to realise their potential through innovative learning and teaching will be further demonstrated through an Active Learning Conference, 11 and 12 September in Cambridge, beginning with master classes in active learning methods.

Student Success and Progression at ARU

As a university we celebrate the way in which we provide opportunities for an outstanding higher education for students from a very wide range of backgrounds - this is a vital part of who we are as a university. Although we have made very significant strides in many aspects of our educational delivery and in our support for students you may have seen last week that our rates of progression through our undergraduate degrees are not at the level they should, or can, be (https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/performance-indicators/non-continuation-summary). We had already identified this as one of our most important areas to address in the coming months and will be a key component of our future educational strategy.

Professor Ruth Taylor is leading a group to identify and recommend, short, medium and longer term interventions that will both support our students and increase rates of progression. It is already evident that there is no one solution that will simply address this issue - I know it is tempting to fix on one area but I can assure you, having spent a long time looking at our data, this will not work. We will need to implement a range of initiatives, some educational such as the project I opened with, some regulatory, some pastoral and almost all being in partnership with individual students and the wider student body. I cannot emphasise too strongly how important this issue is for ARU and how seriously we are taking the implementation of solutions - this is a project that all of us across the university must own and support.

The TEF and the Higher Education and Research Bill

The passage of this piece of legislation has had a very rough week since the Report Stage began in the Lords last week Monday. I would acknowledge and thank UUK for much of the summary below.
During the first session peers voted by 263 votes to 211 to add Amendment 19 to the Bill -  
 
‘The scheme established under section 26 must not be used to rank English higher education providers as to the regulated course fees they charge to a qualifying person; or the unregulated course fees they charge to an international student; or the number of fee paying students they recruit, whether they are qualifying persons or international students.’ 
 
If passed into legislation this would break the link between fees and the ratings in the Teaching Excellence Framework. The implications of this are far from clear.
 
In addition amendment 72 has also been passed - this provides in relation to the TEF that 
 
‘The Secretary of State, or that body designated by the Secretary of State to develop such a scheme, must, before such a scheme is introduced, and on a regular basis thereafter, obtain independent evaluations, including an evaluation from the Office for National Statistics, of the validity of any data or metrics included in such a scheme.’ 
  
The amendments which have been passed, like many under debate during Report stage, reflect concerns with the design and use of TEF. However, in the course of the debates two themes have emerged strongly from the peers who spoke: widespread understanding of the need for fees to rise in line with inflation, and that no one wanted to deprive universities of this; and while it was important for the sector to be able to demonstrate teaching quality, the metrics being used and under consideration were not considered fit for purpose.
 
The Bill cannot proceed to Royal Assent until both houses agree on the entire text of the legislation. Even without the Bill, the higher limit for tuition fees will increase to £9,250 for courses starting after 1 August 2017. This was provided for in a statutory instrument issued by the Secretary of State at the end of last year, under powers granted in the Higher Education Act 2004.  
 
The challenge for us is that whatever we think of the measures that the TEF uses if this amendment is enacted the sector will potentially lose up to £16 billion over the course of the next 10 years - something that will without doubt impact on the quality of the education we are able to offer.
 
Regards
Iain