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Showing posts from June, 2018

Research and Teaching: The price of researchers not teaching

Has the emphasis on research and REF damaged the teaching and support for students by front-line academic staff? "Your teaching is trivial, anyone can do it”.   After 35 years of academic life as a scientist teaching Microbiology and Biochemistry in a Russell Group university, this is exactly what a ‘senior’ manager told me as I negotiated my ‘smooth’ career exit when I decided to retire early. I left at the end of 2016 after spending a year working part-time whilst winding down my research group. I offered to continue with some teaching over that time simply to help out colleagues. But that was the response to my offer and my teaching ended more abruptly than expected in the summer of 2015.  How had things come to this?  The remark was probably a careless throw away comment but it was made by someone more ‘senior’ to me who had comparatively little experience of teaching undergraduate students. It betrayed an attitude that had been gaining ground for some time. I wondered

Tragedy on Campus – now is the time to act to prevent suicides and mental distress

The increase in student numbers without a concomitant increase in staff resources has perhaps reached its inevitable limit. Students should expect more from their time at university. Those struggling to find the time to study should expect support to be readily available. They must be given equal chance to succeed in the best years of their lives taught by staff doing the best job in the world. There has been much media attention devoted to an apparent rise in the number of students killing themselves in recent years and months [1]. This concern was compounded  further by reports of a lecturer who committed suicide back in February citing a heavy workload [2]. Times Higher Education reported the tragic news as a “ wake up call on overworking in academia” [3]. It appeared that he had been expected to mark 418 examination scripts in 20 days. Sadly, this level of burden is not unusual in my experience and it often comes on top of other duties and expectations. There is now

Scottish Government Statement on Student Support: Good in Parts.

The announcement today is broadly welcome as a step in the right direction. But the ‘sting in the tail’ is that the changes will only kick in from 2019/2020. The Scottish Government finally responded to the independent report for the Scottish Government: “ A New Social Contract for Students - Fairness, Parity and Clarity ” [1] that was delivered to them in November of last year.   Since then, the Scottish Government has come under increasing pressure to produce a response. This afternoon, Shirley-Anne Sommerville, Scotland Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science finally presented a statement on ‘Student support’ to the Scottish Parliament. This was scheduled in at a late stage. The full statement is here (15 minutes): TEFS welcomed the independent report “ A New Social Contract for Students - Fairness, Parity and Clarity ” back in 2017 as a step in the right direction [2]. This is because it set out the basic needs of an individual student

The Lords Report: Treating Students Fairly: Is there a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel?

A generation of students has been plunged into a dark tunnel and surrounded by debt and uncertainties about their future lives.  But some hope is ahead through the release today of the much awaited 2nd Report of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee: ‘Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education [1]. It is comprehensive at 149 pages and pulls few punches in its criticism of the ‘system’ that in summary is described as: “ The system of post-school education in England is not a system. It is unbalanced in favour of full time university degrees, and as a result offers poor value for money to individuals, taxpayers and the economy.” The headline news covers most of this report in some detail and show how it sets out a major challenge for Government to meet. Three very important conclusions emerge that will require a clear response free from prevarication. Firstly a demand for maintenance support for all students in post-18 education. Means tested loan

The student experience in 2018: Higher Education Policy Institute Conference: From Funding to Fining.

“Discussion of individual stories disrupts perceptions” We should always “Test policy against individual examples”.   Shân Wareing, London South Bank Universi ty Three events this week reinforced further the idea that terrible inequalities persist in our Higher Education provision. On Wednesday, Times Higher Education reported the release of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) results for universities across Great Britain (The Northern Ireland Universities declined to take part) [1]. The crude and facile designation of universities into the gold, silver and bronze categories hides more significant differences between institutions. Would be students will look at these scores very carefully when making the choices that often define their lives.   If the aim was to deflate the idea of going to a university because of its “ reputational premium ”, instead of its sound teaching, then TEF has had some partial success.   But the lure of the elite institutions will p

Storm Clouds over University and College Union: It is consuming itself within sight of students

Students see a lecturer before them presenting knowledge, ideas and experience of practical skills. They do not see the contracts and pressures that exist.   They might ask more questions of the management about their lecturers and their precarious contracts. UCU has squandered a chance to debate these real issues that affect themselves and the impact upon students. This week saw an ominous storm break out at the University and College Union (UCU) annual Congress in Manchester.   Though students in both Further and Higher education do not ordinarily pay much attention to the proceedings of their lecturer’s union, they should look more closely now. The fate of the staff teaching them is determined to a large extent by the success of UCU in protecting jobs and working conditions. This is in the face of increasingly tough actions by the employers in both universities and colleges. Every student in Higher Education will have been aware of the recent and momentous battle to retain