The expectations and pressures placed on UK universities are considerable and sustained. Watson (2011:411), setting out eleven major UK changes between 1963 and 2010, has argued that the UK stands out because the: ‘degree of legislative hyper-activity is extraordinary’. The pace of legislative change since then has not slowed, with the increases to fees and student loans following the Browne Review (Browne 2010), changes to research funding and the REF, the introduction of the TEF (and now KEF) and, of course the setting up of a new regulator in the OfS and a new regulatory framework to go with it. Ministerial (and media) interest in the outcomes of undergraduate education is high, with focus on the outcomes for different groups of students and different disciplines. The role of universities in delivering elements of the Industrial Strategy, in eliminating inequalities through widening participation and student success initiatives, and in ensuring that the UK has a workforce ready to tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century has perhaps never been more central and visible – or more crucial.
Within this landscape, University Alliance universities have much to offer. The University Alliance Strategic Framework points out:
“Alliance universities have been proud leaders in technical and professional education since the Industrial Revolution and are still crucial to the success of cities and sectors today.” (University Alliance 2017:2 )
Alliance Universities draw students from all walks of life and embrace diversity: they offer students from “all parts of society the opportunity to achieve more than they ever expected” (University Alliance 2017:5). As the government continues to roll forward T-Levels and, perhaps, continues to misunderstand the role of Universities in delivering high quality technical and professional education, the University Alliance continues to advocate for the distinctive contribution that its members can make.
Focusing on outstanding professional and technical learning and teaching in Higher Education, the Teaching Excellence Alliance has much to offer in this area. TEA members’ determination to champion and showcase the outstanding outcomes for students from all backgrounds that can be achieved through authentic, employer-engaged curricula and assessments will ensure that the University Alliance – and Alliance Universities – can make the case strongly for the value of professional and technical higher education. Outward-facing advocacy, therefore, is a key driver in members coming together in the Teaching Excellence Alliance. By building an evidence base of excellent practice through the evaluation of TEA activities, and by championing TEA universities’ best practice, we can more effectively raise the profile of quality professional and technical higher education.
While external advocacy is one driver for the TEA, the opportunities available through collaboration is another. At a time when students’ engagements with their universities may seem increasingly reduced to the role of consumer, and when:
“The language of economics and the market has become exuberant and confident of its capacity to overshadow, and perhaps even make redundant, all other kinds of discourse.” (Smith 2012:651)
universities may be driven apart by competitive measures. Collaboration is, therefore, more important than ever. By coming together to work on areas of shared focus, such as the complicated dynamic between grade improvement and grade inflation, inclusivity, BAME attainment and programme leadership, Teaching Excellence Alliance members can collaborate to solve problems; sharing best practices and forging new ones. Flexibility of offer is important in the TEA. Through whole-day, collaborative CPD; provider-led webinars; accelerator projects and bespoke development led by peer-review college expertise, the TEA aims to building networks of ideas as well as people, and to drive educational enhancement within – and beyond- our membership. Our activities aim to ‘crash-test’ ideas, creating, recreating and sharing innovation; and creating frameworks for development (such as the sandpit approach) that TEA members can use and build on.
Of course, effective communication is core to successful collaboration, so the Teaching Excellence Alliance has established a virtual platform (currently on OneHE) that provides a forum within which any member of staff from a TEA university can talk to others. The platform offers opportunities to share practices and resources, test ideas, and build connections.
Developing ways of recognising and supporting our expert educational practitioners, and of developing new leaders in higher education, is another driver for Teaching Excellence Alliance members. However, in talking about experts and leaders, we don’t mean only those with positions or recognised authority (although they are, of course, included). The development of outstanding learning and teaching means enabling grassroots or democratic leadership of education (Woods 2004, Perry 2014) in ways that recognise, reward, and give opportunities to our expert teachers. The Teaching Excellence Alliance’s Peer Review College is a mechanism for this, as well as a key route to developing capacity for providing quality professional development within the TEA. The Peer Review College comprises national experts and outstanding practitioners: recognised and nominated by their university, the individual and collective expertise of the PRC will enable these specialists to develop and demonstrate the impact of their work beyond their own institution, in ways that both enable their own career progression, and enable their universities to showcase the outstanding teaching.
The TEA is a collaborative venture, and it stands, or falls, on the engagement of its members. Together we can champion and increase the visibility of the professional and technical higher education which unites us, and we can build networks that strengthen and enhance our own excellence in learning and teaching.
As Director and Deputy Directors of the University Alliance Teaching Excellence Alliance, Sal, Dawne and Jackie are passionate about the advocacy, development and collaboration which we have outlined here.
Dr Sal Jarvis, Prof. Jackie Potter Prof. Dawne Gurbutt
Browne, J. (2010). An Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance. BIS. London, HMSO.
Perry, J. A. (2014). “Changing Schools of Education Through Grassroots Faculty-led Change.” Innovative Higher Education 39(2): 155-168.
University Alliance. (2017). Strategic Framework 2017-18. online, University Alliance
Watson, D. (2011). “Cassandra and the politicians: higher education and policy memory.” Educational Review 63(4): 409-419.
Woods, P. (2004). “Democratic Leadership: drawing distinctions with distributed leadership.” International Journal of Leadership in Education 7(1): 3-26.