Students are at the heart of everything we do and this was evident at our Higher Education Conference 2014, held on 19th March at our McMillan campus. This event concerned student experience and engagement and scholarship, with students and staff working in partnership to stimulate fresh thinking and share best practice. In the morning sessions, while student delegates enjoyed our first ever course representatives conference, HE staff listened enthusiastically as Dr Clive Opie, Dean of McMillan School of Teaching, Health & Care, outlined the benefits and requirements of the Higher Education Academy Professional Recognition Scheme (UK PRS). Dr Opie, who became the first teaching professional in college-based higher education be awarded the Principal Fellowship of the HEA in December 2013, explained that after a two year development process the College was expecting to finalise accreditation from the HEA imminently and the value this would have for staff and students.
“Across our college we strive to provide flexible and accessible learning opportunities for our students using innovative approaches that will encourage engagement and enhance performance. The College understands that its students deserve the best provision possible and through our policies and strategies we aim to provide this. A critical success factor of this aim is our teaching and learning provision; specifically the investment and commitment we make to high quality teaching demonstrated through our recognition and reward of our teaching staff and their professional qualifications.”
Dr Clive Opie, PFHEA. Dean of McMillan School of Teaching, Health and Care
We are the first FE/HE College applying for HEA accreditation, in a unique development to embed UK PRS into the College’s HE strategy, with full institutional support. Rónán O’Beirne, Director for Learning Development and Research explained the link between the UKPSF and scholarship, and how it would demonstrate scholarly activity, foster dynamic approaches to teaching and learning, and give staff professional recognition. Kirsten Sawyer and her team have redesigned the PG Dip to incorporate the UKPSF requirements for assessment and evidence and a experiential route is also in place.
Dr Angus Carpenter then delivered his keynote speech, setting out to raise questions and provoke ideas he delivered an assessment of the HE sector, the College’s position in it, and the relationship between quality teaching, research and scholarly activity. He spoke candidly of the challenges and possibilities facing the College and other institutions seeking Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP).
After spending the morning with students, Raechel Mattey, Vice President Union Development for the NUS, delivered a passionate speech to staff. Her concerns went far the beyond the expected worries about student fees, debt, lack of jobs and opportunities to a much broader concern for students to engage with broader issues of education policy and delivery. Rachael insisted that Student Voice was not about complaints or consumerism but about taking an active role in shaping their education and their future. She suggested that rather just seeking student feedback being restricted to anonymous ratings of set questions on the satisfaction survey, that it was more valuable to ask them what was good about their learning experience and listen to the individual responses. College Higher Education could lead the sector by promoting this more positive model. She explained,
“Students want to work in partnership, to take a role in creating an authentic, inclusive student experience, an experience that fosters learning, connectedness and positive social change.”
Raechel Mattey, Vice President Union Development for the NUS
A selection of students from the morning’s student reps’ training came to share their feedback with the HE staff about what had made a difference to them. For Jess Ing, who is studying HND Creative Media Production, it was having opportunities to gain experience in the field she wanted to work in. She explained that in five years of being at College she had been to the Berlin Film Festival, worked on a film in Spain for a week and worked as first director on two films for the BYFA and was doing work experience on BBC Look North. For Phil Broadwell, who is on the Access to HE: Health Professions programme it was about the quality of teaching. He said, “My tutor has a very widespread knowledge and she relates the course to her working life in a hospital”. First year BA (Hons) Surface Design & Textile Innovation student, Katie Andrews, appreciated that everyone in cohort was encouraged to enter the Bradford Textile Society Design Awards, as students she knew on similar courses elsewhere did not have that option. Katie he also appreciated that as her tutor had been absent she contacted the organisers to arrange an extension to the deadline. Ume Habiba, an international student who is in the final year of her BA (Hons) Accountancy degree spoke of how good it was to play a role acting between students and staff to make things better for everyone. After giving student feedback on a subject issue extra tuition had been given to resolve it.
Introducing his presentation on Student Engagement and the UK Quality Code, Neil MacKenzie, General Manager at Bradford College Students' Union, disclosed that he had previously worked in Russell Group Students’ Union. “Before, I was training people who were already going to rule the world, to do it a bit better. I am now empowering people who never thought they could have a say in the world around them. So many students that we reach are described as ‘hard to reach’. We lead the sector in providing opportunities for all students to have a voice in education. We have trained over 220 course reps – more than twice last year’s figure – equipping them with the skills to be heard.” Noting the tension between aspirations of ‘partnership’ and consumerist philosophy, Neil asserted, “The response from the sector and the students is that it is about scholarship and participation not consumerism.”
Staff members Mick Brennan, Nosheen Qamer and Pam Brook then shared some refreshing examples of best practice from staff and students working in partnership, which were met with enthusiastic responses regarding potential interdisciplinary collaboration.
Dr Graham Stevens, Associate Dean Higher Education, reviewed the day’s proceedings and concluded, “We considered professionalism and scholarship in the context of TDAP and student engagement and had a challenging and controversial presentation to stimulate our thoughts on scholarship and the pedagogical effectiveness of staff. It is energising to hear about other institutions going for TDAP and that in comparison we are well on the way. We are doing an excellent job providing transformative education through our reflective practice and we should recognise how important we are as teachers in making a vast contribution to the life trajectory of students. A core element for us is that education is stronger when students are heard and our focus is always on the student learning experience.” Damien O’Keefe, observed, “Praxis works both ways; I am profoundly changed by my involvement with the students”, and this comment received approval from the staff present, who welcomed the increase in student engagement.
You can see images from the event here