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It may still be a typical scene of university life – rows of students in front of a lecturer and Powerpoint slides – but it’s also one many people want to see less of, including employers and the students themselves.
Being more innovative in approaches to teaching across the whole range of subjects is crucial to delivering employability, stimulating economic growth and tackling unemployment over the long-term. This means a fundamental shift in the role of lecturers, tutors and students; for example, more collaboration with employers and local communities on real-life projects; strategic support for high-quality teaching on a university-wide basis; and more responsibility for students to lead and engage with each other as an integral part of their university studies.
Of course lecturers still need to inspire and engage. The challenge is to integrate more traditional methods of teaching and assessment with new and innovative activities which unlock the potential of all students and enable them to make vital contributions as graduates to the societies in which they live and work.
The change is critical to the future of universities themselves so that they maintain their importance to the economy and society and their wider cultural impact on the UK. It also means that the education they provide continues to be a solid investment for students, particularly older students and those who traditionally have not considered university to be for them.
A new million+ report, Teaching that Matters, authored with the University of Wolverhampton, sets out how a revolution in teaching is already underway in modern universities. These universities have played an outstanding role in expanding opportunities while ensuring that students are active participants in learning. For example, History students at the University of Derby run a conference as well as deliver research papers; health students at Middlesex University work with service users and carers to close the gap between theory and practice. At Wolverhampton, students are appointed as e-champions to help their peers with ICT and higher grades across the board have been the result.
Modern universities also play a key role in helping people in work and those who prefer to study part-time gain higher qualifications by offering flexible learning opportunities and many more sandwich courses and work and professional placements. These universities act as engines of social mobility and growth for the knowledge economy, with more of their graduates moving into higher socio-economic groups (according to HESA data).
In their transformation of teaching, modern universities are an important model for the sector as a whole. The renewed interest of Ministers in teaching is very welcome. What’s needed now is on-going recognition of the key role that teaching excellence and innovation plays, in all universities, in supporting students to become the graduates that employers need and from which society as a whole benefits.