1 July 2021
QAA Membership - A specific place for college higher education
Dr Roshani Swift
Quality Manager, QAA
Dr Roshani Swift led higher education curriculum and standards at Blackburn College at programme and strategic levels for 30 years, and later worked as a consultant with a range of colleges (including Manchester, Stockport, Stafford, Telford, North Shropshire and Northumberland) as a mentor for senior managers on higher education quality and standards. She is also a mentor for higher level and degree engineering apprentices, working with and supporting employers, and a Quality Manager at QAA.
I was lucky to be part of the recent QAA College Higher Education Policy and Practitioner Network meeting and also to be engaged directly in many discussions with current college-based higher education practitioners on emerging sector-based priorities. I was struck by the enthusiasm of those engaged, and how discussions facilitated problem-solving and sharing of good practice.
The college higher education sector is diverse in size, aims, ambitions and scope, and this diversity remains a key feature despite the different area-based reviews leading to, in some cases, college mergers. I see this diversity within the sector as an important strength and recognise that it is unwise to generalise as ‘one-size’ most definitely does not ‘fit all’. It is essential, therefore, to recognise the value and celebrate the contributions made by all college higher education practices, each informed by the particular context of individual institutional priorities.
Discussions during the QAA College Higher Education Policy and Practitioner Network meetings, combined with work I have undertaken with research participants, have identified key priorities areas for colleges including:
- Recognising the significant contribution that higher education teaching staff make
Teaching staff require ongoing support to address their higher education teaching priorities as distinct from those required within their further education teaching contexts.
- Active collaborative working with different stakeholder groups such as employers and students
The importance of creating a sense of belonging through partnerships with students and teachers, and between teaching staff themselves is clear. Employers and the relevant professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRBs) play a fundamental role, especially in the context of delivering technical education and in view of the skills agenda which is evident from governments across the UK.
- Using data to evaluate practice and share the benefits of a college-based higher education
Findings from my research, in particular, consistently highlighted the need to use of both quantitative and qualitative higher education data to inform decision-making. In establishing the benefits for students that arise from a college-based higher education experience, there is a need to identify and value data which demonstrates the academic, technical and personal ‘distance travelled’ by our students when they complete their courses. The work QAA is doing around data-based evaluation and decision-making will be particularly helpful in supporting College Members to proactively implement a data culture, and to promote the benefits of their distinctive higher education offer for students.
- Recognising the role of ‘place’ and community for college higher education providers
Colleges have a deep involvement in their local communities and regions, and this informs their curriculum development priorities. My work with employers has involved collaborative leadership programmes facilitating work across public services and third-sector employers, all of which aligns with national policy, for example as set out in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.
These policy directions promote a form of college-based higher education which values technical knowledge and skills for the sustained development of individuals as lifelong learners within their local communities, helping to deliver regional economic and social cohesion priorities.
I believe there is an exciting future for college-based higher education. QAA Membership activities involving horizon scanning, sector-level research and higher education policy debates will continue to help inform the design and delivery of post-pandemic higher education, with a focus on creative inclusive learning communities and embedding flexible pathways.