Higher education needs to evolve from the lecture hall to encompass new technology and meet the needs of a diverse range of learners
Against a backdrop of crashing participation from mature and part-time learners, the government is urging universities to think hard about how they can reskill the workforce and encourage lifelong learning.
Alec Cameron (vice-chancellor of Aston University ) points out that what universities are offering must be appealing because participation has increased to such impressive levels. “But I think we’ve ‘maxed out’ in terms of participation in terms of what is currently offered,” he adds. If universities are to reach out to new audiences they must change – and that must include rethinking pedagogy, he argues.
“If we want to expand participation we need to look at what role online learning should play, and what greater integration between work and study might look like. We need to consider students attending university in intensive blocks of education, and how we utilise the almost half of the year when there are no lectures on campus,” he says.
As part of his mission for more flexible higher education, universities minister Jo Johnson has been pushing hard for more accelerated two-year degrees, enabling students to gain the skills they need and then get on with using them in a job much faster. The idea has raised hackles.
David Bell, vice-chancellor of Reading University – “I think it’s entirely reasonable that two-year degrees should go into the mix, but I would be sceptical about it being some new Jerusalem,”
Alec Cameron notes that “the way we get them (students) job ready is actually keeping them for four years rather than three years. Eighty percent of students do a work placement and we’ve demonstrated that is a great way of closing this gap in terms of social capital, which is what gets them a job at the end,” he says. “So the idea that we would take students from a less prepared market and push them through in two years seems to me to be setting them up for failure in the job market.”
“In Australia, the practice of credit transfer is far more established, meaning that students can resume their education at a different institution and know they will get credit for what they have already done at their last university, he says. This could resuscitate the part-time market, but he warns that universities need to run with this opportunity before the government decides to impose it.”
His vision is for universities to bring together all the different study options – accelerated learning, on-campus teaching and online – and allow students to choose whatever mode suits them for a particular module or a particular time in their lives.
Did the MOOC revolution happen?
David Bell – a lot of the work-oriented MOOCs in the health area have been extremely popular. “We’ve been learning about a different way of making academic knowledge available to people who want to use it in bitesize chunks,”
Alec Cameron thinks that one of the most interesting things to emerge from this experiment is the move by some universities in the US to aggregate these “micro-credentials” so that they count towards a qualification. “I think that’s interesting in the context of how part-time and mature learners will engage with education,” he says.
Ray Brogden, COO of Qualifi feels in relation to the article’s title – are university degree models stuck in the past? the answer is yes. Cameron’s vision “for universities to bring together all the different study options – accelerated learning, on-campus teaching and online – and allow students to choose whatever mode suits them for a particular module or a particular time in their lives”, already exists and has done for some considerable length of time however, it emerged not in the university sector, but the Alternative Provider Sector. Vocationally Related Higher Education qualifications provide Student Company, Advanced Learner Loan approved value for money, flexible learning opportunities for students. Qualifi’s qualifications are designed to encourage delivery via a blended learning approach, supported through the use of technologies embedded in Learning Management Systems and content hosting platforms that yield flexibilities sought by students in an increasingly busy and technology-enabled life. Qualifi’s credit yielding HE qualifications facilitate access to final year Honours Degree Top Up and Masters programmes. They enable bite-sized learning, reduce the debt burden, enable 24/7/365 access to course content, encourage lifelong learning and provide a two-year honours degree programme e.g. Qualifi Level 4 and Level 5 completed in one calendar year followed by final year top up to honours degree. The future is already here!