#Take5 #107 Keeping up to date with higher education sector change: Implications for Learning Development Practitioners

This #Take5 is brought to you from Dr Steve Briggs, Director for Learning and Teaching Excellence at the University of Bedfordshire and Dr Helen Webster, Educational Development Consultant (Academic Skills) at the University of Oxford . 

Steve is a former ALDinHE Co-Chair and currently a member of the Committee for the Association of National Teaching Fellows. Over the last eight years Steve has championed and led work that serves to promote recognition for Learning Development Practitioners. 

Helen is a former co-chair of ALDinHE’s then Professional Development Working Group, and has led the creation of CPD for Learning Development practitioners as well as championing the profession at all levels across the sector. 

If after reading this blog, you’d like to continue the conversation, join Steve and Helen for a free webinar on the 18th July 2024 15.00 – 16.00 LD@3 Keeping up to date with higher education sector change. Book a place via the ALDinHE website.

Recent changes to the HE sector landscape 

Learning Development takes a ‘situated’ approach to helping students navigate university and get the most from their studies. On an everyday level, this often means the context of the discipline or what’s happening in our own institution, but on a wider scale, our work is also influenced by what’s going on in the broader context of the Higher Education sector. Both nationally and internationally, the sector landscape is shaped by a number of drivers and agendas: in the first instance, government policy created by departments (and not just the Department for Education; consider how Home Office or Treasury policy have impacted our students’ lives recently), and associated regulatory and funding bodies (such as the Office for Students in England or HEFCW in Wales). There are also organisations and charities which serve the sector, champion specific issues or represent the professions (such as Advance HE, JISC, or Student Minds). This may sometimes seem remote from our everyday practice and bewildering to navigate, but these drivers shape our institution’s strategic plans, which in turn inform our Learning Development teams’ resourcing and priorities as well as giving rise to the issues impacting on students that we see as we work with them to navigate these in the course of their learning.

Examples of the changes

In the last ten years, there have been significant policy changes that have impacted on the size, shape and focus of Higher Education in the UK. For example:

  • – Creation of the Office for Students
  • – Thresholds for continuation, completion and graduate outcomes.
  • – Teaching Excellence Framework 2023 (covering Student Experience and Student Outcomes).
  • – Updated Access and Participation Plan (outlining institutional interventions that will serve to reduce inequalities related to access, continuation, completion, awarding gaps and graduate outcomes, according to a risk- and evidenced based approach).
  • – Redesigned NSS (updated and new questions) 
  • – Foundation year expansion
  • – Changes in international student numbers (due to the pandemic and then visa changes)
  • – Changes to EU student numbers (post Brexit) 

Why is understanding these changes important to Learning Development Practitioners? 

In the last couple of years, conversations have come to the fore within the profession about the status of Learning Development in our institutions, and it can often seem that we are either side lined as a passive recipient of policies and strategies decided higher up, or at best working ‘under the radar’. However, Learning Development’s core values of student-centred, emancipatory practice are best served if we take more of an informed, proactive stance towards the drivers that shape Higher Education and our own work. This not only serves to protect and preserve the work that we are committed to, but also ensures that its full value is drawn on to the benefit of our institutions and the whole sector. There are two aspects to consider:

  • Getting ahead of the curve – spotting trends and identifying significant developments, thinking through the likely impact on Higher Education, on students and on Learning Development work, and formulating what a Learning Development response might be. Whether agendas are ones we agree or disagree with, or changes ones which we welcome or not, it’s helpful to anticipate them and think through what it will mean in the context of our work and our values.
  • Getting in the room – influencing and contributing to institutional conversations, responses, agendas and plans. There are so many forums for decision making which Learning Development could usefully inform, both directly relevant such as reducing awarding gaps, or indirectly such as student wellbeing and belonging. Strategically gaining a voice on relevant working groups, committees or reporting structures will help Learning Development play a more prominent and influential role in shaping change.

It might feel like many Learning Development Practitioners are a long way downstream of these changes, but this is ultimately directly shaping our work.

Actions you can take

Whether you are a head of a Learning Development service or a member of a team, you might:

  • – Look at your institution’s strategic plan to see how it’s influenced by sector level drivers, and how your institution has chosen to respond and to which priorities.
  • – Consider how different priorities and regulatory regimes influence resourcing and positioning of Learning Development provision. 
  • – Reflect on how you are seeing impacts of sector change in the students you work with, what response is needed and who might find this evidence useful.

Understanding such priorities enables you to be able to play a proactive role in shaping your institutional responses to external drivers – whether that is how Learning Development operates within your institution or influencing how the university responds to wider agendas: 

  • – Use these strategic imperatives to justify the case for more resources and agency, establishing an evidence base and data for ‘what works’ in terms that align to change drivers. This helps us protect the value and practice of Learning Development in a Higher Education system that may misconstrue the field as being low-skilled, instrumental and deficit, in contrast to our values.
  • – Work holistically as part of a ‘whole institution approach’ for the overall benefit of your university to embed Learning Development into curricula and other student experience mechanisms such as wellbeing (for example, the new Student Minds Mental Health Charter). 
  • – Find out what reporting structures you can feed into, or working groups and committees you might speak to, aligned to these agendas. We can position ourselves with influence and expertise rather than feeling at the mercy of the tide, helping our institutions think about and respond to change.

You also have a voice at sector level, irrespective of your status within your institution. Platforms such as WonkHE, Times Higher Education or Guardian Education (see below) publish articles representing viewpoints from across the sector at all levels. If you have a perspective, opinion, polemic or insight to share, you may well find that it’s welcomed as an article for one of these organisations. You might want to run it by your institution’s press office first, but why not pitch it to an editor? If that feels daunting, you could also write a blog post such as this one for a professional organisation like ALDinHE or AdvanceHE, or appear on a podcast such as the Learning Development Project or Education Burrito

Keeping up to date with higher education sector developments

ALDinHE is good way to keep up to date with developments in the profession, but it is also essential for Learning Development Practitioners to be aware of agendas and drivers across the HE sector that are (or will) directly or indirectly impacting on (and beyond) the Learning Development field.

It is worth familiarising yourself with the sector bodies that drive change directly via regulation or government policy, influence and shape it, or report or comment on it. They have mailing lists, newsletters, podcasts, events and social media channels which are all useful for Learning Developers to remain up to date with wider higher education sector news, policy updates, new resources, CPD and networking opportunities.

Driving Change:

  • – The Department for Education. The UK government department that oversees Higher Education policy, as well as Early years, Primary and Secondary Education. It sponsors the OfS. 
  • OfS (Office for Students): The Independent Regulator for Higher Education in England. Areas of OfS responsibility include the Teaching Excellence Framework, Access and Participation Plans and the National Student Survey (NSS). It was formed by merging the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).
  • – Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Scottish Funding Council similarly regulate and fund universities and other institutions of Higher Education in Wales and Scotland.
  • Universities UK (UUK) is an organisation representing the voice of the UK university sector, via their member Vice Chancellors, to influence policy and coordinate collective sector-wide action. 

Shaping and Supporting Change

  • Advance HE: Advance HE is an independent member-led charity, established by merging the Higher Education Academy with the Leadership Foundation and the Equality Challenge Unit. It runs the HEA Fellowship scheme and administers student surveys including the UKES, PTES, PRES. 
  • QAA (Quality Assurance Agency): the QAA is an independent, member-led charity working in the UK and internationally with institutions, governments and regulatory bodies on quality assurance. 
  • TASO (Transforming Access and Student Outcomes): TASO is an independent charity that undertakes evaluation and research to establish how initiatives impact on student access and participation. It offers research, toolkits and guidance on evidencing and evaluating to reduce equality gaps.
  • HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute). HEPI is an independent think tank, undertaking research, creating reports and other research outputs to inform and shape debate around the Higher Education sector.
    Student Minds: Student Minds is a charity which focuses on raising awareness of and championing student mental health. It produces resources and toolkits for students and institutions, and runs the University Mental Health Charter scheme. 
  • UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) is an independent charity that provides and supports the admissions process for British Higher Education institutions. It provides information and guidance for students, but also data and reports for the sector. 
  • JISC: the Joint Information Systems Committee is a non-profit agency that offers services and guidance on digital and data transformation in UK Higher Education. You may be familiar with its JISCMail service on which you can subscribe to a number of professional email lists. JISC now includes HESA, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which collects and publishes data about UK Higher Education.

Commenting on Change

  • WonkHE: WonkHE is an organisation which promotes discussion, debate and analysis of Higher Education policy and other news. It brings together a diverse range of perspectives in articles, podcasts, newsletters, social media, events and reports. 
  • Times Higher Education (THE). Formerly the Times Higher Educational Supplement magazine, THE now offer national and international news, commentary, blog posts, rankings and jobs listings. Your institution likely subscribes to this service.  
  • Guardian Higher Education. The Guardian newspaper has a section dedicated to Higher Education news and commentary.

Further recommendations?

Please leave a comment if there are other sector level organisations that you would recommend to a Learning Development Practitioner.

Let’s keep this conversation going

Steve and Helen will hold a LD@3 dialogue session to explore how to best support the Learning Development community to keep up-to-date with and respond to sector level higher educational changes and developments. Book a free place for this webinar on the 18th July 2024 15.00 – 16.00 via the ALDinHE website: LD@3 Keeping up to date with higher education sector change.

Author profiles:

As Co-Chair of the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education Steve led national work related to professional recognition and networking events including the introduction of the CEP and CELP scheme. Steve is a Chartered Psychologist, National Teaching Fellow (2020) and PFHEA.

Dr Steve Briggs

Helen has been a Learning Developer since 2006. She has headed two Learning Development services, and held hybrid roles as a consultant in Higher Education learning and teaching. She is a National Teaching Fellow (2019), SFHEA and was one of the first Certified Leading Practitioners of Learning Development.

Helen Webster

2 thoughts on “#Take5 #107 Keeping up to date with higher education sector change: Implications for Learning Development Practitioners”

  1. Thank you so much Helen and Steve for this fascinating, informative and really important blogpost!
    We think that this could be an HE Policy CoP: Getting in the Room and in the Conversation?
    All the best,
    Tom and Sandra

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