10 February 2012

The Times: Revolution in teaching that can benefit the whole of society

Pam Tatlow writes in today’s (10 February) Times about the new million+ report ‘Teaching that Matters’ and a teaching revolution that is taking place in our universities.

Revolution in teaching that can benefit the whole of society
The latest university application figures show an understandable rush to career-related subjects — but they also reveal another significant trend. Students are choosing courses that are taught with a focus on professional development, actively engage with real-world projects and combine high-quality scholarship with the development of the “soft” skills that employers say they need.

Lecturers still need to inspire. The challenge is to integrate traditional methods of teaching and assessment with new, innovative activities that unlock the potential of all students and enable them to make vital contributions as graduates to the societies in which they live and work.

Being more innovative in approaches to teaching across the whole range of subjects is crucial to delivering employability, stimulating economic growth and tackling unemployment over the long term. This means a fundamental shift in the role of lecturers, tutors and students; for example, more collaboration with employers and local communities on real-life projects; strategic support for high-quality teaching on a university-wide basis; and more responsibility for students to lead and engage with each other as an integral part of their university studies.

This change is critical to the future of universities themselves so that they maintain their importance to the economy and society and their wider cultural impact on the UK. It also means that the education they provide continues to be a solid investment for students, particularly older students and those who traditionally have not considered university to be for them.

A million+ report, Teaching that Matters, produced with the University of Wolverhampton, sets out how a revolution in teaching is already under way in modern universities. These universities have played an outstanding role in expanding opportunities while ensuring that students are active participants in learning. For example, history students at the University of Derby run a conference as well as deliver research papers; health students at Middlesex University work with service users and carers to close the gap between theory and practice. At Wolverhampton, students are appointed as e-champions to help peers with ICT and the result has been higher grades across the board.

Modern universities also play a key role in helping people in work and those who prefer to study part-time by offering flexible learning opportunities and sandwich courses with professional placements. These universities act as engines of social mobility and growth for the knowledge economy, with more of their graduates moving into higher socio-economic groups.

In their transformation of teaching, modern universities are an important model. The renewed interest of ministers in teaching is very welcome. What is needed now is ongoing recognition of the key role that teaching excellence and innovation plays, in all universities, in supporting students to become the graduates that employers need and from which society will benefit.

Pam Tatlow is chief executive of the university think-tank million+.