And so, we got a Silver…

Yes, we got a silver award from TEF and that is, in fact, an incredible achievement. The comments from the TEF panel in their response to our submission, are really positive:

  • Very high proportions of students from all backgrounds continue with their studies or progress to highly skilled employment, notably exceeding the provider’s benchmark.
  • The metrics indicate full-time students have very high levels of satisfaction with teaching, academic support and assessment and feedback.
  • Course design that provides scope for high levels of stretch, including by working with industrial partners in course development and review.
  • High quality personalised learning that is embedded across the University
  • An institutional culture that recognises and rewards excellent teaching through professional development, a teaching and scholarship promotion route and awards for excellence in learning and teaching.

These are all excellent commendations and reflect the hard work and commitment of all our academic staff, our students, and our professional services. The fact that we have got the highest metrics (when measured as z scores) or any of those institutions awarded a Silver, is also something to be very proud about. We are clearly doing many things right and well above the average of the sector. Can I therefore thank everybody, across the University, for their commitment and their contribution to this excellent award!

However, and it is a big ‘however’, I am very conscious of the fact that many across the University – and interestingly beyond the University in the various media stories around the TEF – felt that Swansea deserved a Gold.

There are probably many reasons why we were not awarded the Gold; all these decisions are the consequence of lots of different factors playing off against each other. One of these, and probably only one, that particularly strikes me on reading a number of the submissions from institutions that have been awarded Gold, is that there is nothing specific, within all that we do at Swansea, that really stands out as being ahead of the sector. We do everything ‘excellently’ (and that is no mean achievement in itself) but nothing is seen, by those outside the University, as ‘exceptional’ or ‘consistently outstanding’. This is clearly something that we need to change.

There are many things that we do, generally in small pockets across the University, that are exceptional and outstanding. One of the things I will be doing over the summer is inviting those involved in such outstanding activities to write about their work in guest blogs on this site. We need to make much more of the exceptional activities that do exist on all three of our campuses.

More significantly, however, I think that it is important to recognise where we are, and the journey that we are on in terms of learning and teaching at Swansea. I joined the University two years ago and colleagues were already thinking about how we could make a ‘step change’ in our delivery of learning and teaching and, particularly at that time, in our student engagement. This has led to two major programmes, STEP4Excellence and Go Beyond, and I have talked about both of these within this blog on numerous occasions.

Neither of these programmes were to be understood as instant fixes. They both recognised the level of cultural change and, in terms of Go Beyond, structural changes that would be need to deliver the benefits that we were looking for. We embarked on both programmes as part of three to four year programme and we are currently about half way through that cycle.

Over the last two years there has been a great deal of study, consultation, reflection, engagement with colleagues and exploration of best practice both internally and across the sector. This has identified a number of principles and practices that are embedded in the STEP4Excellence and Go Beyond programmes. In terms of STEP4Excellence, we are just about to embark on the first element of implementation. The Academic and Pastoral Support Framework is due to be rolled out across the University in the next academic year with a considerable programme of training for all staff in the autumn. The Student’s Union worked incredibly hard last year to build up a significantly higher level of student representation from all parts of the University, providing training, an annual conference and high levels of support for the new reps. We will only see the benefits of that in the next couple of years. On another level, SALT has been honing their work on peer review of teaching with a radical new approach, first developed in Australia, which will be implemented for the first time during the next academic year.

The same is true of Go Beyond. We have been working hard behind the scenes throughout this academic year, and I have been travelling around all the departments and subject areas in recent months talking about how this work is developing. We intend to roll out, in the autumn term, a series of tools, based on the mind-set expected of all Swansea graduates, on a sequence of principles to be embedded in all programmes, on a relaxing of the modular framework and on proposals for a more radical rethinking of the academic year, that, if accepted following consultation, will undoubtedly place Swansea at the forefront of thinking, and practice, in terms of learning and teaching, not just within the UK sector, but internationally.

We are not there yet. We are half way through our own journey. We are undergoing radical transformation, both as a University and in our approaches to learning and teaching. At this point in our journey, I have no doubt that a Silver award in the TEF is a real accolade, a confirmation that we are on the right track and a call to do better. In two years’ time, when all that has been begun in STEP4Ecellence and Go Beyond have been implemented and are clearly impacting on the student experience and the learning and teaching here at Swansea, I have no doubt that we will undoubtedly be recognised as Gold. What is clear, however, is that we all have a great deal of work still to do before we reach that point.

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