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Many issues await the attention of the new universities minister

In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .

Storm clouds are gathering over UK universities

The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.

The UK must look after its global talent

Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.

Student complaints rise by nearly 21% in a year

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.

Adopting Sustainability Development Goals for research must go beyond ‘SDG washing’

Professor Cam Donaldson, Pro Vice Chancellor and Vice Principal (Research) and Yunus Chair in Social Business & Health at Glasgow Caledonian University, explains how his institution has put into practice a research strategy led by Sustainability Development Goals.

Digital skills of all teaching staff need development, says report

Universities need to develop the digital skills of all staff - not just a few specialists - to promote teaching excellence, a new report has concluded.

Research for the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) into how “digital capability” can promote teaching excellence found that teaching with technology does not always transform learning, and that it is not always used to its full potential.

Institutions often prioritised “developing digitally-capable individual practitioners above everything else” and there was a focus on IT accessibility rather than change-management, researchers said.

The study - carried out by Sheffield Hallam University - found there was “minimal consensus” in the higher education sector about what was meant by “digital capacity” or “teaching excellence”.

The aim was to find out what digital strategies “had the most evidence of enhancing and transforming the student learning experience”. The study concludes that technology can help teaching, but is never a substitute for good teaching practice, such as “student-centred learning”.

Under the Teaching Excellence Framework, universities will be asked to measure student satisfaction with teaching.  

In a foreword to the report, Professor Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University and Chair of the Teaching Excellence Framework panel, said: “One of the most pressing of questions for university academics is to think in challenging and applied ways about the relationship between digital capabilities and teaching excellence.”

He said higher education was “still grappling with the breadth and depth of the digital transformation” and that the “terms of trade” for universities had changed in some fundamental ways.

“Yet at the core the purposes of universities and of advanced learning remain in many ways unchanged: developing understanding at the very highest level through the engagement with the most current knowledge about a field and the most sophisticated methodological tools available.”

Among the other findings of the report is that the promotion of digital capability for teaching excellence requires “strategic ownership” and needs to “address resistance to change”. Digital capability needed to be valued if it was to promote teaching excellence and better staff training was needed.

The study gives key principles for “developing digitally-capable teaching excellence” including “start with pedagogy every time” as well as the importance of having a robust strategy backed by evidence and encouraging people to innovate.

Professor Husbands said: “It is important to explore and to understand the ways in which the opportunities afforded by changing technologies can support teaching of the highest quality.”

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