5 Jun 2012

 “Students say they deserve higher quality teaching (The OBSERVER: 22/04/12)”

Quality in Higher Education is in the news again. HEFCE has just announced a new consultation on- Improving Quality Assurance in Higher Education.Inter alia, it suggests:

“The proposals also seek to ensure that the enhancement element of review is strengthened; and that there is continued student engagement in quality assurance and enhancement processes.”

  I very much hope that members of the SHED fraternity will be energised to respond. And the recent announcement by QAA, on its new Quality Code for HE which mentions ESD is a welcome initiative, albeit a belated response compared to that of OFSTED and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service.

I believe that universities should place much more emphasis on the quality of teaching as Liam Burns the NUS President has recently argued. The current approach to quality in higher education emphasises the role of universities in serving economic interests. This restricts how quality is defined, understood and measured. Hence value for money, completion rates, graduate employment and graduate earnings feature strongly. And this means that a degree becomes equivalent to a share certificate whose value is determined by the issuing university. A recent select committee report was highly critical of the Vice Chancellors who gave evidence but could not give “a straightforward answer to the simple question of whether first class honours degrees achieved at different universities indicate the same or different intellectual standards”.

Universities should assess how learning contributes to wider social functions such as active and ethical citizenship and shaping a democratic civilised and more sustainable society. Universities have a significant role in developing ‘sustainability literate’ leaders and hence optimising their contribution to the future of society, the environment and the economy.  Sustainability in this sense does not feature in quality assurance or the accreditation systems for university teachers.  An NUS survey carried out in 2011 indicated that 80% of first year students said sustainability should be an integral part of their university course and that this would help them in gaining employment in the future

Moreover, a highly critical select committee report on quality and students (Students and Universities, 2009) contained the following student quote: “contact time we have with staff is a problem. Lecturers are often informative but there is no one-to-one time. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a sausage factory rather than surrounded by some of the foremost minds in my field “.
 We urgently need to encourage and seek ways of integrating these more fundamental aspects of teaching and learning into university quality assurance procedures and into the professional accreditation of university teachers so that we count things of real value to both students and society more generally.
  Stephen Martin

4 Apr 2012

Leaked Document from the HEA

A colleague at UCT* obtained access to this e-mail and its attachment.

Dear *******,

No, you're right. Necks on the line.

Let's retract current strategy and go with attached.


PS Need new Foreword and Intro.

The Higher Education Academy
Strategic Plan 2012 – 2016
Championing excellent learning for resilience and flourishing in universities

Our Vision

For UK universities to be recognised and valued by students, staff and wider society for their facilitation of consistently excellent and appropriate learning.

Our Mission

To use our expertise and resources to support individuals, disciplinary and interdisciplinary teams and university communities and institutions in general to enhance the quality and impact of learning for resilience and flourishing.

Our Purpose

The HEA:

/ Works across the UK to meet the global challenges of today and tomorrow and to enhance students’ learning experiences in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

/ Is owned by the university community, through Universities UK and GuildHE, and works with, for, and on behalf of higher education, supporting subscribing institutions to develop their learning and facilitating practices.

/ Collaborates with university providers, funding bodies, university mission groups, professional, statutory and regulatory bodies, subject associations, sector agencies including the National Union of Students, and groups representing external stakeholders, for instance, local communities.

/ Operates across the university community, bringing together different perspectives to inform and challenge developments in learning and facilitation for resilience and flourishing.

Our Values

applying systems thinking, curiosity, expertise and knowledge to push boundaries and foster a culture of innovation around resilience and flourishing.


– collaborating with individuals, groups, communities and institutions to transform staff and student learning, enabling all to become change agents.

Working for the public good

– providing transparency, accountability and resources.


– ensuring an equality of opportunity and treating all others with respect by taking responsibility for our actions on the planet.

Our Priorities

1 To inspire and support effective practice in learning and facilitating for resilience and flourishing

Supporting individual disciplines and promoting interdisciplinarity

– providing subject-specific support, including systems thinking events and resources for facilitators throughout their careers, working closely with discipline associations and networks, and ensuring opportunities for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary developments.

Supporting professional standards

– providing support to staff working alongside academics, for instance librarians, student support services, careers staff and e-learning specialists.

Addressing challenges

– supporting the university community to rise to additional contemporary challenges such as satisfying greater expectations with less resource, flexible delivery, equality and diversity, assessment and feedback, reward and recognition, employability and internationalisation; recognising that without an underlying focus on resilience and flourishing, the HEA nor the above themes will be able to exist.

Encouraging reflection and innovation

– commissioning pilot projects, research syntheses and new research into learning and facilitating, and disseminating the findings to enhance practice and shape policy around resilience and flourishing.

2 To recognise, reward and accredit excellent facilitation

Recognising and rewarding individuals

– creating opportunities for professional recognition and accreditation, in particular through our fellowship scheme - aligned to the (soon-to-be-refreshed to reflect new staff attributes) UK Professional Standards Framework - our National Teaching Fellowships programme and our facilitation awards.

Accrediting institutional provision

– maintaining and promoting take-up of the sector-owned UK Professional Standards Framework, and supporting institutions to use the Framework to accredit their continuing professional development for academic and professional staff and to support institutional reward, promotion and recognition policies or procedures, as above.

3 To influence policy, future thinking and change

Influencing national policies

– working with representatives of students, staff and external stakeholders to interpret, challenge and shape learning and facilitating policy, for instance through commissioned briefings and position statements, and convening events to influence debate.

Evidence gathering and analysis

– capturing, analysing and disseminating intelligence to benchmark and improve policy and practice, and by conducting international comparisons.

Facilitating institutional change

– offering change programmes, consultancy, development opportunities and resources to help academic leaders initiate and embed change that enriches learning and facilitation for resilience and flourishing.

4 To develop an effective, sustainable organisation that is relevant to today's challenges and valued by higher education

Effective governance

– working with our Board of Directors and Trustees to ensure the needs and expectations of society are met or exceeded.

A client-focussed service

– through a team of HEA partnership managers, we will meet the learning and facilitating needs of subscribing institutions by guiding them through our services, tailoring our offer to meet their specific needs, and responding to their feedback to ensure we remain useful and relevant.

Staff engagement

– becoming a reflective learning organisation that ensures its values are translated into practice, making the HEA a place where staff feel professionally fulfilled and enabled to meet the challenges we are facing.

Securing financial sustainability

– we will seek to secure new sources of revenue, for instance by providing services to international institutions or agencies and expanding our subscription base.

We will measure our success against the following targets:

Development of Relevant Academic Practice
[To be defined]

Staff Attributes
[To be defined]

Institutional Strategy and Change

At least 80% of institutional leaders and policy-makers surveyed agree that they have gained valuable support from the work, knowledge, evidence gathering activities and interventions of the HEA.

At least 75% of institutions in the UK have used the HEA’s institutional strategic change services.

Organisational Effectiveness
To be defined


*UCT is the University of Clear Thinking. It is a fantastical university; therefore, with regards to the above...

26 Feb 2012

Notes from a Sane University

Just thought I’d drop a line about what it’s been like at my new job at UCT.

UCT is amazing. They are really taking on board sustainability seriously. Here is what is happening:

Collapse and…
Every course and module now begins with “Collapse and…” in the title. Even if that is not the focus of study, it reminds everyone to keep that narrative in mind, as a precautionary principle. For example, “Collapse and Accounting and Finance for Contemporary China”, “Collapse and Ancient History”, “Collapse and Economics with Russian”, “Collapse and French and Philosophy”, “Collapse and Mathematics and Computer Science”, “Collapse and Neuroscience”, and “Collapse and Veterinary Medicine”. How could it possibly work with some of these? Well, take Vet Med. Not only do they learn how to treat animals (the Business As Usual course), they also look at how to prepare for when people can no longer afford to get treatment for their pets, or for when livestock are abandoned. In addition, the curriculum includes information and thinking on medicine without access to oil/fuel (both in the making of the medicine and also the transport and storage of medicine). Yes, conversations can get intense, but they’re lively at UCT! Oh and lest I forget literature and culture studies, there is a Reader in Dark Mountain (that cultural project based on collapse and our responses to it). I should mention, though, that, very soon, UCT is planning to abandon discipline-specific subjects and start implementing complex problems and predicaments, and having students explore solutions and responses via multiple disciplines. (If a discipline becomes irrelevant, under this process, so be it. Staff understand that they may become redundant – it’s in the contract. But most staff are planning to skill and knowledge themselves up so that they are not pigeon-holed into one discipline, thereby increasing their resilience to the needs of the university.)

Power Down Hours (Days)

To help focus the mind of staff and students, all power (electricity) cuts out for one hour, randomly, each day. This is gradually being increased and, soon, one day per week will be “power-free”. Students and staff, at first, reacted, well, reactively. But gradually, increased amounts of time were spent preparing for the power cut, so that the cut wouldn’t be so disruptive. One of the more interesting outcomes (so far) has been that the kitchen staff are preparing a cold store on the south side of the campus to store perishables underground. (And they are pushing for less frozen food to be needed.) Some students are starting to take notes with notebooks and paper, and most staff are giving up PowerPoint. (Obviously, this is all saving them money and decreasing their carbon footprint!)

The Staff
I am sure you asking how on earth staff (particularly academic staff) went along with such sweeping changes! Well, taking their lead from some other organisations, UCT management/trustees restructured the university and everyone was required to reapply for their jobs. Only now, the job descriptions all included “staff attributes” and required the ability to use systems thinking to problem solve (amongst other things). In fact, during the interview process, applicants must demonstrate these attributes in a written and oral group exercise. As everyone was now “new staff”, it was easy to require all new staff to attend a lengthy induction (along with new students), which included presentations, discussion and debate on the different models of how to explain what is going on in the world today, and what will happen next. Staff are still made up of Business as Usual advocates, Green Economy advocates, Circular Economy proponents and Collapsonomics aficionados, but the difference is that they all are quite well-versed in the different arguments and demonstrate critical thinking and “keeping an open mindness”, as was required on hire anyway.

The Students
UCT markets itself as the Unemployability University, for the very good reason that most graduates will not become employed (at least not in the traditional sense; there are modules on the Shadow Green Economy). How students cope with this reality is important, which is why the university is taking it so seriously. In fact, students are encouraged to attend UCT with the clear understanding that they will not be able to re-pay their tuition fees, so they may as well consider it a free education. In addition to “traditional students”, unemployed/underemployed/retired people from the local community are encouraged to attend classes, free of charge, and under the radar of the government. This makes for a richer learning environment, and the (required) projects undertaken in the community are more successful. Lastly, staff are also students at UCT: non-academic staff were hired for their enquiring minds, so are often in classes; and academic staff are required to take courses outside their disciplines in order to facilitate interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration in solving/responding to our current and future problems/predicaments.

I just want to say I love working here. It’s sane. It’s fun. And if only this wasn’t just a little bit of fantastical writing about the University of Clear Thinking… Sigh.

17 Jan 2012

Today becomes Tomorrow - Some notes and questions

Daniella Tilbury and Alexandra Ryan have written a very interesting paper to introduce a special issue of the Journal of Social Responsibility. The special issue focuses on the position of sustainability within business learning. It makes the case for Business Education for Sustainability. Given the power and influence that graduates of various MBA courses around the world are likely to have on the behaviour and lifestyles of others, some passionate advocacy for the building in of sustainability into business courses is very much needed. Tilbury and Ryan's paper threw up several questions for me, included below alongside some notes. I'd be very interested to read responses to them from SHED members and others who have read the article:

New things I found out:
1. That there is a One Planet MBA at Exeter

Things I liked:
1. That this special issue exists and that the conversation is happening.
2. The way they describe an inclusive view of Sustainability at bottom of p.138
3. The citing of Muhammed Yunus and Microcredit
4. Recognition that those who get a business education are some of those who go on to hold power and influence over the lives of many people.
5. Emphasis on the need to 'build in' not 'bolt on' sustainability.

Questions I have:
1. What is your opinion of the OECD Better Life Index and have you been following the ONS National Wellbeing consultation? Will either gain any real traction in the business world?
2. What's your opinion on the fact that the IUCN approach was to focus on 'the monetary value of nature' [ecosystem services] (p.139)? This is something that DEFRA have done recently too. Is this sensible in the way it commoditizes nature and re-inforces extrinsic values? The latter being particularly important when thinking about business education.
3. Can the 'fundamental ideological struggles involved in bringing sustainability into the business curriculum' (p.142) be overcome without profound changes in the ideology of the business world / Capitalist World? If not, where should efforts be focused?
4. Is Stephen Sterling's 'ecological intelligence' an important concept here? (As a related but usefully distinct one from Systems thinking?')
5. Students, who in a study cited on p.143 are reported as 'seeking stronger emphasis on sustainability' on business courses. I suspect there are a variety of motivations, so the questions here are quite rhetorical.
a. Is this because they want to be more prepared for the future (be more literate about Climate Change, Population growth, resource depletion, biodiversity loss, etc) and therefore more prepared for the threats and opportunities that will emerge?
b. Is it because they genuinely care about the negative impacts of business and want to minimise, rather than eliminate these (or know how to use CSR as PR)?
c. Is it because they see business as the only model, long-term, that can bring about change and genuinely want to run a 'Social Business' in the way that Yunus defines it?
6. Are the differences between 5a+b and 5c the difference between Education FOR and Education ABOUT Sustainability?

4 Jan 2012


Bill Scott’s previous blog about change contains some important and topical messages given the launch of the new LIFE index and the ongoing debate about methods of measuring progress towards a” sustainable university”. He quotes Stephen Sterling:

“How we evaluate and measure anything ... depends on what we think it is [and this informs] the kind of indicators we choose. So while it may not be possible to achieve consensus on the nature and implications of ESD, we can at least attempt some clarification of its dimensions, so that debate on evaluation is in turn clearer” Stephen Sterling 2009

I agree that this distinction is important and highly relevant to any of the sustainability change programmes currently under scrutiny in our universities. But it is important to think a little more about the purpose(s) of evaluation.

We evaluate all the time.  Essentially, when we do this we are taking a piece of the world and comparing and contrasting it by holding it up against something that we already think and know and have decided the value of – whether good or bad, useful or not, high, medium or worthwhile, right or wrong.  This ‘existing description of the world’ against which we compare the piece of the world we are evaluating is our benchmark, criterion or standard.  (This is a bit like those little plastic map templates some of us traced around at primary school and made a shape we knew was our country).  We carry these around in our heads and pull them out when we want to check new things. But the problem with sustainability and our sense of what a sustainable university looks like is much more difficult and more contentious. Indeed, I would go further and argue we do not yet have a clear and coherent vision of such a university. And yet we seem to be pretty clear about the un-sustainability of our universities.

To ‘do an evaluation’ means that we actually do a piece of research or inquiry – but with the emphasis on finding out what value people place on things – in this instance how a university is approaching one of the most challenging contemporary issue of our time .  There is value in knowing what people think of a university’s progress on sustainability, but even more value in knowing why and thus what they would prefer.  People’s preference or possible future options can then also be evaluated by them and the agreed ‘best way to go’ subsequently enacted.  Consequently, while any evaluation will follow a series of steps, it is also clearly setting in place processes which enable others, who are making value judgements, to follow the same steps for their own evaluations.  Hence, there is likely to be a more consistent approach from a range of people involved – designers, deliverers and recipients of a change programmes.  For institutional change to be initiated and commitment to occur, there  has to be some fairly clear conception of what the future state of affairs could be if and when the change were to be successful.

Gleicher’s formula might be helpful in determining readiness here:

                                      C = ( D V F) > X  

Where C = change, D = the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, V = the quality and clarity of the vision about the desired future state, F = the feasibility of the proposal and X = the cost of changing (this includes the psychological costs as well as more conventional elements such as time, money and materials).

The Formula for Change was created by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher, refined by Kathie Dannemiller and is sometimes called Gleicher's Formula.  It provides a model to assess the relative strengths affecting the likely success or otherwise of organizational change programmes. The revised formula is:

                              D x V x F > R

Three factors must be present for meaningful organizational change to take place. These factors are:

D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now;
V = Vision of what is possible;
F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision;

If the product of these three factors is greater than

R = Resistance, then change is possible. Because D, V, and F are multiplied, if any one is absent or low, then the product will be low and therefore not capable of overcoming the resistance.

Steve Martin 4/1/2012