Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 96

Memorandum from Professor Charles E Engel related to the evidence session on Monday 9 March 2009

  1.  The emphasis appeared to relate to non-professional higher education only.

2.  No overriding criteria seemed to be offered in relation to the general and specific aims of higher education which could act as "touch stones" for the acceptability, effectiveness and efficiency of the components and outcomes of a degree curriculum.

  3.  The evidence did not appear to attempt to explore the relationship of performance prior to, and subsequent to graduation (how does a superb degree relate to the recipient's subsequent contribution to society?). What independent, long term evaluation has or is being undertaken?

  4.  Where selection of students is concerned, research over some ten years at a medical school demonstrated that students with lower school leaving attainment from less privileged schools succeeded equally well during and by the conclusion of a demanding five year curriculum. One contributing factor was thought to be the affect of an integrated, cumulative curriculum. In the absence of modules all disciplines contributed throughout the curriculum (in a problem-based learning setting).

  5.  The educational disadvantages of the modular design of many academic curricula would suggest that the design of courses might benefit from revision with the needs of the 21st Century in mind.

  6.  One major impediment may be the persistent autonomy of separate disciplines which make an integrated development and application of knowledge and understanding quite difficult for students. There is now some experience with the application of matrix management for the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of cumulative, integrated curricula, where academics from the participating disciplines can collaborate—not as guardians of their respective discipline.

  7.  Perhaps more attention might be paid to the nature and application of assessment and the consequent affect on students' learning.

  7.1  Active, self directed and reflective learning (leading to lifelong learning) would call for frequent formative, informal assessment for rapid guidance of the individual student's learning..

  7.2  Less frequent summative assessment would also contribute to the student's educational development in a maturation process designed to foster progressive maturation from late adolescence to adult membership of society.

  7.3  Where collaboration, rather than inhibiting competition, is the educational aim, emphasis on grading ought to be avoided.

  8.  Teaching would preferably be regarded as a range of different activities and responsibilities, including not only face to face interaction with students but also mentoring, acting as a consultant to help students to arrive at their own insights, designing assessments, assessing students' performance, designing curriculum constructs, selecting students, supervising research.

  8.1  Development in educational expertise might be seen as a gradual maturation process. Post doctoral academics may feel more secure in their current detailed knowledge and thus wish to emphasise this in their teaching. More senior academics, with their deep scholarship and appreciation of fundamental principles may be quite outstanding teachers. Thus teaching might be recognised as a privilege of more senior colleagues, while junior colleagues are still earning their academic spurs through their research.

  8.3  Where higher education is seen as preparation for productive adult citizenship, academic teachers ought to have experience of the outside world, rather than only the relative security of progression from school to undergraduate and postgraduate study and research, and thus on to academic posts. Successful teachers in professional subjects tend to remain active in professional practice. They are familiar with the need for continuing their further education.

  9.  One of the issues raised by the Committee was whether the standard of university education in this country was satisfactory. Both within the UK and elsewhere, eg North America, questions are being asked whether their respective higher education is adequate to prepare students for world wide competition in the 21st Century.

  9.1  This issue relates to the Recommendation in my Submission with Bland Tomkinson.

March 2009

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