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

Memorandum 41

Submission from York St John University



  1.1  Sustainable widened participation can only be enhanced through key agencies working in close partnership and developing local solutions to aspirations, achievement and access.

1.2  Excellent teaching needs to be informed by research and professional practice. Support for research must not just focus on "blue skies" but also properly recognise the contribution of action and near to market research in future sustainable economic growth and social development. Global excellence is important but there is also significant social and economic value from research of local and regional relevance and excellence.

1.3  Quality systems for the honours degree are robust. However, the degree can fail to represent the full range of student achievement and the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) is an important proposal. Higher education must not be purely instrumental but has a key role in personal and social transformation, embedding lifelong learning and in advanced education for global citizenship and democracy.

1.4  The quality of the student experience is of primary importance in both achievement and retention. We welcome the increasing recent emphasis on the "student voice" in policy and practice development as represented, for example, through the National Student Survey (NSS) and the National Student Forum.

  1.5  Higher education needs to be supported to deliver more flexible and innovative provision to a more diverse and dispersed student population. Both the employer engagement agenda and increasing internationalisation requires funding models and quality processes that support this vision.


  2.1  GuildHE Universities have a strong and sustained commitment to widening participation and a record of achievement.

2.2  York St John University hosts Aimhigher in Yorkshire and Humber along with the lifelong learning partnership, Higher York (York St John University, University of York, York College, Askham Bryan College and the City of York Council) and Learning City York, the education partnership of the City of York's Sustainable Community Strategy.

  2.3  Bringing together the key agencies addressing widening participation and establishing transparent progression routes across all institutions, providing higher education in York and its immediate surroundings provides greatest benefit for students from primary schools through to post-graduate level.

  2.4  Our experience shows that, especially for hard to reach students, it is important to integrate arrangements to provide for local circumstances and to create local (and regional) solutions, especially when confronted with extensive rural areas and issues of "access poverty."

  2.5  York St John University is actively engaged with the Higher Education Academy's Special Interest Group on widening participation and fully supports its work in establishing and sharing best practice.

  2.6  We also support the work of the Higher Education Academy in developing a better understanding of new students' expectations of higher education, embedding widening participation and student diversity and its work on personal tutoring. This work should contribute to enhancing the quality of the student experience.

  2.7  We fully support the move to increasing transparency and fairness of the admissions process and the work of GuildHE in shaping the Delivery Partnership.


  3.1  Excellent teaching needs to be informed by research and professional practice.

3.2  Students want to study in an environment where they can experience state of the art practice along with the most current developments in theory. Such research and practice informed teaching excites and inspires students.

  3.3  There is no natural divide between teaching and research. However, this research must also include action research and near to market research and not just "blue skies" research. Research quality is not just about global rankings but also about regional excellence and its potential for social and economic impact working with private, public and voluntary organisations.

  3.4  Higher education must provide all students with research skills and the confidence to think critically is regularly cited as highly desirable by employers.

  3.5  York St John University supports the UK Professional Standards Framework developed by the Higher Education Academy. It requires academics to demonstrate the incorporation of scholarship, research and professional practice into their teaching with a programme of accredited continuing professional development.

  3.6  There is a clear appetite for better recognition of teaching. This is also strongly indicated by the prevalence of accreditation and continuing professional development for staff in higher education and by the Higher Education Academy's system of Associates, Fellows, Senior Fellows and National Teaching Fellowships. This provides an aspirational structure and a valuable network for sharing good practice.

  3.7  Formal training of HE teachers new-to-teaching is a priority at York St John. Our HEA Accredited programme has secured professional standards here in the UK. Importantly, it is now an "expert product" to the research-led University of Bahrain; and a contributor (via PMI II) to raising standards in the developing world through a contract with four universities in Kenya.

  3.8  Individual universities need to provide support for professional development and to recognise high quality teaching. Teaching needs to be a clear and unambiguous route for academic promotion.

  3.9  Post-graduate students need to be provided with teaching opportunities with the support and guidance of experienced and successful university teachers.


  4.1  York St John University believes there is compelling evidence that the quality system is sound for universities operating within the framework overseen by the Quality Assurance Agency and the honours degree is an enduring and highly valued qualification.

4.2  A preoccupation with the honours degree, however, can fail to represent the full range of study opportunities in the modern university and student achievement. The UUK/GuildHE report "Beyond the Honours Degree Classification" sets out the opportunity to recognise the breadth and depth of student achievement through the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR). York St John University supports the work with JISC and other partners to develop student record systems and software required to ensure its success.

  4.3  We strongly believe that higher education is not purely instrumental but has a key role in personal and social transformation, embedding lifelong learning and securing global citizenship for democracy.

  4.4  York St John University supports a greater emphasis on diversity as a contributing factor to excellence and more vigorous critique of simplistic models of quality as evidenced by many league tables.

  4.5  We would also support the call for a systematic debate, coordinated by DIUS, concerning what constitutes excellence in student performance across disciplines.

  4.6  We share the view that the National Student Survey is now a vital tool for within the broader university toolkit for student evaluation, assessing students' perceptions of the quality of their experiences.

  4.7  The quality of the student experience is of primary importance at York St John University.


  5.1  The increasing need is for higher education to become a "joint venture" between students and institutions to produce the best outcomes for both students and the economy.

5.2  With a significant demographic downturn approaching, the student profile is changing. The employer engagement agenda is also shifting the locus of higher education to the workplace as much as the campus. The challenge for government is to put in place funding models and quality systems that support this vision.

  5.3  Head of the National Audit Office, Tim Burr, has stated "HEIs could tailor provision more closely to people's circumstances, such as where they live and when they can study. …more needs to be done to expand local and regional higher education in geographical areas with little or no local provision of higher education…" (Report on Widening Participation in Higher Education National Audit Office June 2008)

  5.4  Higher education will need to be supported to deliver more flexible provision to a more diverse and dispersed student population. Both the employer engagement agenda and increasing internationalisation (of the curriculum and the student body) will require innovative models of student financial and other support.

December 2008

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