Earlier today the final version of our submission for the Teaching Excellence Framework, year three (TEF3) was submitted to HEFCE. I want, first of all, to publicly thank all those within the University who have contributed to, or helped to draft, this year’s document. A great deal of work has gone into this and it could not have been completed without the cooperation and dedication of a large group of colleagues, and coordinated by one in particular. I want to thank all those who were involved. Your effort is very much appreciated.
This is our second submission and each time we have looked at the metrics and begun to compile the provider submission (a fifteen-page document that supports and contextualises the data) we have seen different things and learnt different lessons about the University. The one thing that struck me this year was the realisation of just how much has changed since this time last year.
The University has been developing a number of programmes as part of its wider learning and teaching strategy, and I have written about these in earlier blogs. However, it was not just that the work of STEP4Excellence, that aims to enhance student engagement, or Go Beyond, that has been working on issues around the curriculum, have now born fruit and we can see some of the results of these projects in the life of the University. The change seemed to go further than that and is perhaps best expressed as a renewed commitment to learning and teaching, student engagement and the sense of value given to this across the University.
One central, and absolutely vital, part of this is the change that has occurred in the relationship between the University and our students. This can be seen in the growing relationship between senior leaders within the institution and our full-time officers within the Student’s Union, but it goes much further than this. We have hundreds of students, within every programme across the University, volunteering to be student reps and getting involved in meaningful discussions with academic and professional services staff about improvements in learning, in organisation, in facilities and in social activities. The majority of departments also have academic societies led by students, and providing many different kinds of activities, both academic and social, often with a very clear focus on employability and often bringing both students and staff together in the same events.
At one level, of course, none of this is new. Swansea has long had a reputation as a ‘friendly’ university with a clear sense of community, both among its student body and between students and staff. As we have grown, however, what we have seen in many cases is the transformation from informal and casual relations, built up through interpersonal relationships and a sense of common identity, to the structuring of our relationships between students and staff, and often among students themselves. This is not an easy transformation to achieve and there are times when we know that more could be done. But when it works well, as it does in so many parts of the University, we can see a continuity of community despite dramatic change, and we can be very proud of what we have achieved.
The other change I would identify is a renewed commitment to, and valuing of, learning and teaching across the institution. All Universities go through phases as we move through cycles of REF preparation and, increasingly, TEF preparation and NSS results etc. Learning and teaching is emphasised at one point, research at another, student experience at another and so on. Over the last couple of years, however, the metrics relating to Swansea have shown very clearly our ability to demonstrate excellence in both research and learning and teaching, something that probably sets us apart from many other institutions. This is not, however, something that we should take for granted, or something we have always seemed to believe internally.
What I have seen, in the almost three years that I have been at Swansea, is a renewed commitment to learning and teaching and a renewed self-belief that this is, in fact, something that we do excel at. Employability figures have remained consistently high, among the very best in the country, for a number of years now, showing that we are preparing our students for the world of work. The ‘outcomes’, as they say in TEF speak, are consistently outstanding. This demonstrates that we must be doing something right.
This time last year, as we wrote the provider submission for TEF2, I was fully aware of this record, but not quite sure of how we, collectively, actually achieved it. Over the year we have worked with colleagues in Colleges, with senior managers, programme directors, the various Academies, student groups and professional services staff to find best practice and to learn from all the excellent work that is going on. Colleges are focusing on learning and teaching, celebrating their outstanding teachers, and asking difficult questions about how to improve those areas that are still problematic, and overall, we appear to have a new confidence in our abilities and our strategies. This has all made the writing of the TEF3 so much easier in many ways (and also so much more difficult as there is now far more that we would want to include!) and we sincerely hope that we have captured this excitement within the text. All we can do now, however, is to wait to see what the reviewer’s make of it.
Once again, therefore, can I thank all those involved; those who have contributed to the writing of the submission, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to all of you, across the University, who have made your own contribution to our excellence in learning and teaching over the last year.