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

Memorandum 17

Submission from Charles Bland Tomkinson & Charles Edward Engel



"From Strategy to Tactics"


  1.  The place of higher education in the world has changed over the centuries, often by incremental progression, but it is right to conduct a fundamental review from time to time of exactly what higher education is for. There is a temptation to regard universities solely as producers of a skilled workforce, but that is to reduce them to mere technical colleges. In today's complex and challenging climate universities need to do more than that: they need to produce graduates capable of taking their place as leaders in confronting the "wicked" problems that the world throws at us.

1.1.  Gro Brundtland (1987) identified a number of such issues, including:

1.1.1.  The burden of debt in the developing world, inequitable commercial regulations and a growing number of the world's population living at or below subsistence level;

1.1.2.  Overuse of non renewable resources, growing competition for limited water supplies and threatened armed conflict over access to water;

  1.1.3.  Reduction of biodiversity and continuing desertification;

  1.1.4.  Pollution of air, water and soil with detrimental influences on the global environment and climate change;

  1.1.5.  Continuing growth of the world's population, coupled with additional economic pressure caused by increased life expectancy;

  1.1.6.  Increasing nationalistic, political and religious extremism, terrorism, armed conflict, mass migration and social disruption.

  1.1.7.  Politicians and commercial organisations have hitherto demonstrated a short-term, constrained view of such complex issues, and it may fall to our graduates to "carry the torch" for their amelioration and resolution.

  1.2.  A sustainable approach to higher education demands that we look not solely at the economic needs of society but also the complex environmental, political, social and technical needs and the way in which these interact both nationally and internationally.

  2.  Important World Leadership would call for the acceptance of The Ultimate Challenge (Engel, 2000 a).

  2.1.  Inter-professional and inter-sectoral collaboration will be an essential requisite for national and international, long term research, mitigation and progressive resolution of the word's complex problems.

  2.2.  UK universities could lead the world in embedding the development of abilities and skills for adapting to change and for participating in the management of change, not only within the respective professions but also on behalf of society at large.

  2.3.  The growing exploration of courses in sustainable development is an encouraging, though limited example (Tomkinson, 2007).

  2.4.  The progressive development of abilities and skills for inter-professional and inter-sectoral collaboration would need to include the development of mutual understanding of discipline/profession—specific language and ways of thinking. To these would need to be added creative appreciation of cultural, religious, political and language differences. These have been explored in some detail in the Report of the European Inter-professional Consultation (Engel, 2001).

  3.  Undergraduate education should thus be planned and implemented to facilitate a maturation process.

  3.1.  A maturation process assists the individual student to develop from a late adolescent layman to that of an adult graduate who is ready to progress within the chosen profession or occupation, where application of what has been learned is called for.

  3.2.  In order for the graduate to be able to apply both knowledge and skills in an innovative and competitive economy, the maturation process should be embedded in a coherent educational system where the components of the system support each other.

  3.3.  These components will range from the overarching aims of the curriculum to recruiting and selection of the students and their teachers, induction and support, to implementation, monitoring and evaluation—all based on the imperative of fostering active, contextual, integrated, cumulative, collaborative and reflective, lifelong learning.

  3.4  An application of matrix management will enable academics from different disciplines to benefit from collaboration with each other in the planning and delivery of an integrated, cumulative, active learning curriculum. (Clarke, 1984)


  Charles Bland Tomkinson, BSc, BA, MEd
University Adviser on Pedagogic Development, University of Manchester
Fellow, Higher Education Academy
Fellow, Association of University Administrators
Treasurer, Heads of Education Development Group
Member, Professional and Organisational Development Network (US)
Member, Higher Education Research and Development Society (Australia)
Member, International Society for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Author of books and papers on leading educational change.

  Charles Edward Engel, SBStJ, MD(Hon), DEd(Hon)
Visiting Academic, Centre for Higher Education Studies, Institute of Education, London
Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor, University of Manchester
Foundation Head, Division of Medical Education and Programme Evaluation, University of Newcastle, Australia
Foundation Director, BLA Trust for Health Education, British Medical Association
Member, World Health Organisation Expert Advisory Panel of Human Resources for Health Development
Foundation Editor: Annals of Community Oriented Education; and Education for Health , Change in Learning and Practice.


  4.1  The Summary has outlined the need for a creative renascence of the educational experience, so that our students can be suitably prepared to meet the complex challenges of the 21st Century.

4.2  The maturation process is designed to facilitate a seamless development of graduates who are able to adapt to continuous change (Weatherall, 1995) and to participate in the management of change through inter-professional and inter-sectoral collaboration. (Engel, 2001)

  4.3  The success of the design, implementation and evaluation of the maturation process will depend on how well it can be embedded in a coherent educational system in which the components relate to, and support each other.


  5.1.  The components of the system are outlined below in the form of questions. These are designed to be explored by those responsible for the organisation and management of the design, implementation and evaluation of a well integrated curriculum.

5.2.  Besides profession/discipline-specific competences, which generic abilities and skills should the intended approach to learning (eg problem-based learning) aim to have developed by the conclusion of the curriculum?

  The answers to this question would provide the over arching criteria to be satisfied by decisions to subsequent questions.

  5.3.  What should the desired approach to learning enable the students to experience and practise, in order to foster the development of the generic abilities and skills (5.2)?

  5.4.  How could the design and the content of the curriculum enable the aims (5.2) and the related opportunities for learning (5.3) to be achieved?

  5.5.  How could the desired approach to learning be implemented within the criteria inherent in (5.3) and (5.4) within the university and in the work place?

  5.6.  How could the assessment of the students' progress and achievement support the students' learning and contribute to the evaluation of the curriculum's acceptability, effectiveness and sustainability?

  5.7.  How would students be recruited and selected for this curriculum? The criteria would explore not only "efficiency" (prospective successful completion in minimum time and without drop outs) but also "effectiveness" (indication of prospective quality of graduates' contribution in their subsequent careers)?

  5.8.  How may students be inducted and supported in this curriculum?

  5.9.  How may academic teachers be recruited, selected for different tasks within the curriculum, inducted and supported in this vertically and horizontally integrated, cumulative and active learning curriculum?

  5.10.  What will be involved in the design, conduct and organisation of monitoring the implementation and the evaluation of the outcomes of this curriculum?

  5.11.  How will the planning and the implementation of this coherent educational system be organised and managed? Matrix management (Clarke, 1984), rather than departmental management may need to be adopted to enable students to benefit from a vertically and horizontally integrated, cumulative, contextual, active learning experience.

  5.12.  Last but not least, what would be the requisites for successful initiation and subsequent maintenance of the change from a traditional to an innovative curriculum?

  Detailed discussion and illustrative examples with appropriate references to the literature may be found in A Whole System Approach to Problem-Based Learning in Dental, Medical and Veterinary Sciences—A Guide to Important Variables-(Engel, 2007).Available from:


  6.1.  It is suggested that this evidence based, holistic approach to the planning, implementation and evaluation of undergraduate curricula be explored nationally as a promising step towards a 21st Century renascence of the student experience.

6.2.  Related experience over thirty years include:

  6.2.1.  Development of the medical curriculum at the University of Newcastle NSW, Australia (Henry, Byrne and Engel, eds, 1997).

  6.2.2.  A Royal Academy of Engineering sponsored undergraduate study unit for the development of inter-disciplinary abilities and skills in the management of sustainable development (Tomkinson, ed. 2007)

  6.2.3.  Development of a World Health Organization sponsored inter-ministerial course for inter-sectoral collaboration in decision making: Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ghana, Latin America, India (Engel ed. 2000 b)

January 2009


  Brundtland, G (1987) Our Common Future. New York: United Nations.

Clarke,RM (1984) Organising an Institution to Deliver Educational Programmes to Achieve Capability. PLET, 21, 301-6.

  Engel, C. (2000a) Health Professions Education for Adapting to Change and for Participating in Managing Change. Education for Health, 13 (1), 37-44.

  Engel, C. ed. (2000b) Intersectoral Decision-making Skills in Support of Health Impact Assessment of Development Projects. Geneva: World Health Organization.

  Engel, C (2001) Towards a European Approach to an Enhanced Education of the Health Professions in the 21st Century. London: UK Centre for the Advancement of Interprofessional Education.

Available from:£T

  Engel, C ed. (2007) A Whole System Approach to Problem-based Learning in Dental, Medical and Veterinary Science—A Guide to Important Variables. Manchester: Manchester University. Available from:

  Green, R (2003) Market, Management and Reengineering Higher Education. Academy of Political and Social Science, 585(1), 196-210.

  Henry, R, Byrne, K and Engel, C. eds (1997) Imperatives in Medical Education: The Newcastle Approach. Newcastle, Australia: University of Newcastle.

  Tomkinson, B. ed. (2007) Educating Engineers for Sustainable Development—Report of a Royal Academy of Engineering Sponsored Pilot Study. Manchester: University of Manchester. Available from: http:/

  Tomkinson, B, Engel,C, Tomkinson, R. and Dobson, H. (2007) Introducing an Inter-disciplinary Professional Course on Sustainable Development into Engineering programmes. In W. Aung et al. eds Innovations 2007: World Innovations in Engineering Education and Research. Redding, CT: Begell House.

  Weatherall, Sir D. (1995) Science and the Quiet Art: Medical Research and Patient Care. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Prepared 2 August 2009