The Icing on the Cake

The end of the 2017-18 academic year here in Swansea has been something special, especially for those of us who put the experience of our students at the heart of all that we do.

In June we were told that we had the Gold TEF award, providing recognition for all that we do to support our students, the learning and teaching that we provide and the opportunities that we offer, especially for those who come from non-traditional backgrounds.

A few weeks later we learnt that we were within the top ten in the UK for graduate prospects, cementing all the incredible work that we have been doing for a number of years to embed employability into all our programmes and to offer world class experiences through international exchange, work placements, entrepreneurship and volunteering.

At the end of last week, we received the NSS results and discovered that we are now one of the top five universities in the UK for overall student satisfaction, despite the fact that we are no longer the small cosy single campus university that we used to be.

All of this, of course, was crowned by a week of celebration in the graduations, that point in the academic year when we recognise the achievements of our students, acknowledge all the hard work and dedication that has gone into each and every one of their results, and send them out, with our best wishes, into the world of work, or further study. It is always an amazing time of year and one that, personally, makes me very proud of the all the work that we do here in Swansea University.

It is always good to be recognised, to get the awards and the position in the league tables, but that is only a small part, the icing on the cake if you like, of what it is that really makes me proud to be part of the learning and teaching community here in Swansea.

The event, over the last couple of months, that will, perhaps, stay with me most clearly was the SALT conference: a gathering of over 250 colleagues coming together on the Bay Campus to celebrate, and to learn from each other, what is most important about learning and teaching, and student support, here at Swansea.

In the same week the Times Higher Education Supplement hosted an international learning and teaching conference in Glasgow University, and in writing up that conference the THE chose to highlight three contributions that the editors felt were particularly significant or innovative. They highlighted the vice-principle of Glasgow University’s contribution in defence of the lecture, and the wider debate about active learning vs lecturing that is so prominent in the sector at the current time. They highlighted the Dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Education who is concerned about the impact of declining student attendance and engagement on the quality of education. And they highlighted another vice-principle of Glasgow University who argued that it was not worth building new, innovative and exciting teaching spaces unless we offered training to colleagues on how to use them.

What I found particularly interesting was that it was not just at the international event at Glasgow that these issues were being discussed. All three of these concerns and debates were also addressed, often by more than one speaker, as part of our own SALT conference. Swansea is not sitting out, on the edge of the core debates on learning and teaching in the sector, we have colleagues who are grappling with these very issues, and providing their own solutions, on a day to day basis. It is this commitment and enthusiasm, especially from those who are relatively new to teaching at a University level, that has set us apart and enabled us to achieve the kind of accolades that have been showered upon us over the last couple of months.

However, it is more than this. What the SALT conference offers is an opportunity to share ideas and practices, experiments and developments that colleagues have been working with all year. The conference also enables a level of debate, disagreement and challenge to some of our long-held assumptions. It is this freedom to explore, to work with students, seeking in a spirit of co-creation, what is best for them, supported and encouraged by colleagues in SALT, that creates such a sense of excitement about learning and teaching, and wider levels of student support, employability and welfare across the University. It is truly inspirational to be part of such a day and to learn from colleagues from all parts of the institution. Given this commitment and enthusiasm, this experimentation and drive to work closely with students and colleagues, it is not at all surprising that we are an institution that is nationally recognised as leading in learning and teaching, as well as being one of the country’s leading research-intensive universities.

All we need to do now is to apply all that learning and teaching once again, to push that little bit further and to show the same absolute commitment to our students that we always see across the University and next year, who knows, we might do even better!

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