Part 2 - Pathfinder
Bridging Gaps and Meeting Needs
The inclusion of EfS into quality systems requires that connections are made with mechanisms for supporting innovation, promoting continual improvement and managing risk. Experiences during this project showed that although sector attention to cross-cutting education themes is increasing, bringing these themes into institutional practice reveals certain tensions and issues that must be addressed.
Q: Where are the most obvious areas of difficulty?
The complexity of Higher Education institutions means that tensions are inevitable at several levels in the management and development of the curriculum:
- Between institutional approaches (which are increasingly explicit since the widespread introduction of learning and teaching strategies) and subject-specific practices
- Between strategic priorities for institutions (covering research, engagement, corporate operations and institutional development as well as education) and thematic education agendas
- Between the ‘compulsory’ aspects of curriculum practice reflected through the QA function and the ‘optional’ dimensions reflected through the QE function
As EfS encounters these tensions, it provides a classic ‘issue’ or ‘agenda’ that connects and intersects them, due to its central concern with informing the overall direction and ethos of Higher Education.
PILOT WORK FINDINGS – Resolving Pressures
The pilot projects revealed common threads in the ways that institutions needed to navigate the issues associated with embedding EfS in their approach to the quality of learning and teaching:
- Executive support is essential to progress new curriculum agendas such as EfS, as is targeted attention to the priorities of senior staff responsible for quality who are concerned to find the appropriate balance or reconciliation between:
- Formal QA oversight and ‘grass-roots’ QE support
- Corporate agendas and ‘local’ (faculty or departmental) concerns
- Higher level strategy and practical implementation
- The interconnections between EfS and other education themes
- EfS only achieves traction within the quality assurance and enhancement arena where it is embedded as part of the institutional trajectory or narrative around education and supported by evident demand and relevance as understood by key stakeholders.
Q: Where are the most common areas of misunderstanding?
One of the important needs revealed during the project was for more effective communication around EfS, due to its strategic and therefore pervasive nature. The fact that the relationship between EfS and quality can be understood at all these intersections underlines the complexity of change in both areas.
In addition, perception barriers have persisted around EfS as an environmental agenda with relevance mainly to certain subjects. Improving understanding of its strategic breadth and its social and economic aspects is still important in addressing confusions around its value as a cross-cutting educational concern.
These communication and perception issues recurred throughout the activities, meetings and workshops for this project, which is indicative of the need for greater dialogue and understanding.
PILOT WORK FINDINGS – Strategic Communications
The pilot projects identified perception ‘black holes’ around EfS as a strategic education issue and associated communication needs to be met in order to achieve deeper embedding:
- The need for communications and guidance around EfS has to be met at several levels and for different aspects of curriculum practice:
- Addressing both those with prior understanding of EfS and those new to the area
- Spanning different steps of engagement with EfS in curriculum development
- Taking Institution-wide generic view on EfS as well as subject-specific perspective
- Articulating the ‘how’ for educators as well as the ‘why’ for managers
- Where institutions have some prior experience with EfS there can be additional confusion and the need to change direction and address misperceptions – often to counteract the sense that EfS happens only in certain subjects or enclaves.
EfS – Guidance Frameworks for Institutions
Exploring the communications and strategic issues that arise for EfS in Higher Education, the project team recognised the need for guidance to help staff to work with EfS as an education quality priority across different programmes within an institution.
The kitbag contains a range of these materials from the pilot institutions and elsewhere in the UK, including a curriculum development framework commissioned by the Higher Education Academy.
The five pilot project leads consider some of the challenges encountered in working on EfS as an educational quality agenda:
Harriet Sjerps-Jones (Exeter University) comments on the need to enable dialogue around the academic and values base for EfS.
Alex Ryan (University of Gloucestershire) reflects on processes of dialogue in making EfS more explicit as an education issue and some of the pros and cons involved.
Martin Haigh (Oxford Brookes University) discusses the importance of finding enhancement approaches that translate high level missions into practice.
Pauline Ridley (University of Brighton) reflects on the value of systemic approaches that help to resolve the pressures created by competing education priorities.
John Blewitt (Aston University) comments on the fact that institutional culture and practice around EfS will emerge only in relation to real demand.