New Year Resolutions?

Do you make New Year resolutions? As a rule, I don’t. I never find that I keep to them more than a couple of weeks or so anyway. What I have done, however, for many years now, is to use the time over Christmas (as well as the time just before the beginning of each new academic year in September) to review what I have achieved over the last year and where I am up to on a number of significant goals that I set myself every five years or so. Some of these goals are personal, some academic, some related to the job and, in this case, the work I am doing here in Swansea.

As ever there are some personal goals – writing a novel, completing a symphony – which I know may never materialise, although I can always dream. Others – moving to a small holding in the country with room, if not for a pony, at least for a flock of chickens and couple of goats, or creating the best collection of Dogon art in the UK – which are already a couple of steps closer given certain things that have happened over the last year. I wanted to complete the book that I am writing, and should have got that off to the publishers last summer. It is so close, and yet still not quite ready. I know I must make time in the first few months of this year, and be ruthless about not allowing other work and personal matters infringe on that time, in order to get that out the way so that I can move on to the next research project.

What concerns me more specifically in this blog, are goals and targets that I have set around my work at Swansea and the development of learning and teaching at the University.

Two of the projects that were on my list at this time last year are well under way. I wanted to complete the work around the academic year and the development of a new understanding of the curriculum at Swansea, which is tied up in the Go Beyond project. That is now out to consultation and I am planning to bring the proposals, modified from the consultation process, to the March meeting of Senate. I am very pleased with the way that is going. The other was to reinvigorate the work on technology enhanced learning and learner analytics. I was very pleased to be able to appoint a Dean of TEL during the year, and Paul Holland has already made significant progress with a TEL pilot across all seven Colleges and a number of other very interesting projects around the use of virtual reality and other related issues. The analytics work is also a major strand of the IT strategy development so I am content with the way in which that is developing.

There are other specific projects that I also began when I moved to Swansea, or shortly after, that have also made significant progress, or perhaps even run their course, and overall I am very pleased with the progress that we have been able to achieve. It is obvious, as we write the provider submission for TEF 3, the next iteration of the Teaching Excellence Framework process, that we have many more good examples, and positive achievements across learning and teaching than we had when we were writing the TEF2 submission at this time last year.

There is, however, still one thing bugging me. I always wanted to see the development of learning and teaching at Swansea as part of a larger programme, more than the accumulation of a series of specific projects. I felt that we had the opportunity at Swansea to do something different, something more far reaching than much of the rest of the sector. Our history, with its emphasis on the partnership between the University, industry and civil society, our commitment to diversity and the inclusion of many different one community (what many people still refer to as Swansea’s heritage of friendliness), and our sense of ambition, the can do attitude that led us to open a new £450 million campus at the height of the economic down turn, are all significant inspirations. All these, and many other aspects of our life, set Swansea apart. I am still not sure, therefore, whether the work on the new curriculum, or the new academic year, or technology enhanced learning, or any of the other achievements over the last couple of years, really capture this level of ambition.

If I am going to set a goal, or task, for 2018 then it is to stand back somewhat from all the everyday work, and the bigger projects, to open a discussion across the University, as to what University education is really about. Some commentators are saying that there is a crisis in our Universities just at the moment, with all the changes going on at a governmental level (both in the UK and in Wales) and with an increasingly hostile press challenging Vice Chancellor’s pay, freedom of speech and many other things. There is an implied understanding, from government and media commentators, about what Universities are for (providing recruits to, and support for, an increasingly challenging economy). There is also a reaction to that in many of the commentaries from colleagues across the sector, and a growing emphasis on ‘values’ within many HE institutions.

Just this morning, on Thought for the Day, a lecturer in Catholic Theology from Roehampton University used the Midas legend as the basis for a critique of the University sector for focusing on wealth creation rather than on the real work of interdisciplinary reflection on the big issues of the day (something she suggested Theology was ideally suited to). While I have some sympathy for this critique, and for the centrality of Theology as the ‘Queen of Sciences’, what the thought failed to recognise is that academics engaged in the big questions of life, including theologians, need paying for. If Universities are obsessed with raising money, it is to support research and education at a time when the government, and many private individuals and companies, are not prepared to contribute. There are much bigger questions here that do need to be addressed.

My New Year resolution, therefore, and yes I am going to make one, is to use this blog as a site in which to offer thoughts, reflections and commentary, on a weekly basis (how long will I keep that up?) and drawing on conversations already taking place in the media and around the University, about the purpose of University education. If this leads to a publication or two in due course, or an article in the Times Higher, then all the better. More importantly, however, I want to encourage as many of you who wish to join me, to enter the conversation and to offer your thoughts, reflections and critiques of the various ideas I am developing.

I wish you all, the very best wishes for 2018!

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  1. Pingback: Looking Back, Facing Forward – 2018 New Year Blog – Swansea Academy of Learning and Teaching

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