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Graduates for the 21st Century - Curriculum innovation 

Speaker Key

DO Derfel Owen
DH Debra Humphris

DO: Hello and welcome to this week’s QAA podcast. I am Derfel Owen and this week, I am at the Scottish Enhancement Themes conference where we are talking about graduates for the 21st Century and also looking at how we change the way we develop the curriculum for the future. At this morning’s conference, Professor Debra Humphris who is Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Southampton gave a key note about the curriculum innovation program that she is leading at the University of Southampton. Debra, could you just explain a bit about how you started and why you started this project?

DH: Certainly. First of all, thank you very much for an invitation to what is proving to be a really excellent conference, as ever, in the Scottish enhancement theme. So how did we start curriculum at Southampton? What motivated us? We are very committed to research led education and preparing our graduates to be fit for their future, and as we see our research changing; as we address the global challenges and we see the development of major inter-disciplinary strategic themes, it’s only incumbent upon us to think, ‘What does that mean for our education?’ So driven by changes in our research, global challenges and about students who increasingly want to exercise a degree of choice and personalisation in their educational experience, we developed the Curriculum Innovation Program to transform our education in line with our strategic plan. This will all come into effect with the new intake in 12/13, which is obviously, now lining up with changes in funding as well.

DO: That’s quite an ambitious project and quite an ambitious timescale there. How did you start? Where did you begin when you were looking at this program?

DH: When I came into post as Pro Vice-Chancellor, my track record is that I have undertaken curriculum reform at the university or curriculum transformation at the university before, when we introduced inter-professional education into our health and social care programs. Now, the default around that is, why would you train people who are going to have to work together in teams in separate silos in the future when actually, how they work together is incredibly important? And likewise, in terms of how we transform our curriculum, how do we open up choice and opportunity to prepare our graduates for a world where their future is going to be increasingly complex, increasingly challenging, increasingly interdisciplinary and extraordinarily flexible. Now, how do we ensure that in a university during their education and time with us, we best prepare them for that?

DO: And when you initiated this work, what did you find? What were your initial findings or things that perhaps, needed changing or innovating around?

DH: Well, first thing’s first, one has to look around at what is going on in the sector globally and what can you learn from the leaders in the area? So this wasn’t us thinking it up uniquely. In fact, I had been working very closely with my colleague, Brian McGregor who is the Pro Vice-Chancellor at Aberdeen, so a huge credit to Aberdeen: if I look at Hong Kong, Melbourne, Western Australia, MIT, Brunei and a whole range of universities who are taking forward institutional wide change. That’s where I wanted us to be, and that’s the direction that we have set ourselves in our new university strategy.

DO:  So you have set yourself this ambitious goal. Once you have introduced some of these changes in 2013, what do you think the curriculum will look like, perhaps, in five or ten years time?

DH: The structure that we will put in place in terms of the curriculum has got to be about how we help people to make a transition at the undergraduate level and we are going to see a greater flexibility and a greater variety of learners, I believe, as people constantly repurpose for new roles and new jobs. So we need flexibility within the curriculum and we need people to be able to access education in different ways. But at the undergraduate level, how do we transition people from A Levels which increasingly, are highly restrictive and highly discipline focused and may not be, I don’t think, the best preparation for a university education: how do we then open up choice, given that some students may not want to exercise that? Some students may be on a program that, by the nature of the regulation or the licensing arranged with that program, they can’t take other things outside of that program. I think some of that is mythical, to be frank, and I think employers and regulators are attuned to that, and how do we help them engage in a wider range of activities to enhance their total talents and not just their academic talents?

DO: You mentioned, when you were answering that question, some myths, challenges and established practices in the institution, so there is a lot of change and persuasion that is going to be taking place in order to make this happen. How are you going to go about doing that?

DH: You could argue that all you do is create tomorrow’s myths so the reason [unclear 04:46] curriculum innovation program is we are constantly innovating. I have colleagues who are constantly inventing new and really exciting ways to enhance education, so how do we make that happen? I am committed to a process which is a carefully project managed process but is heavy on engaging everybody in the community, which is our institution. If there is somebody who has got an ounce of energy and wants to come and get involved, I will use their talents because we, as an institution of academics, professional service staff and students; we all need to own this. It’s not one person. It’s us as an institution making change.

DO: One of the major changes we’re going to be facing is changes in funding and we know that students are likely to be asking much more serious and pointed questions about value for money. What is the value of higher education? What is the value of a particular course at a particular university? How do you think your innovation program will be addressing some of those questions?

DH: We are focusing very much on a value proposition which is co-created between the student and the university. So as much as we may offer a range of learning opportunities, it also requires the engagement of the student. We can’t make people engage so I am very clear that this is a partnership. They are the beneficiaries of this process and we need to be really clear about the value of that engagement, and the proposition that comes with it. What I fear is that we get into a consumerist type model in which the purchase of a product imbues you with a certain amount of characteristics. That won’t happen; you have to come and engage in the whole life of a university.

DO: Absolutely. Debra, thank you very much for sharing your experience at this conference and this podcast. 

End of Recording.

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