For Staff

Our focus and ambitions for the future - January 2011

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It's finally happened - the biggest change in university teaching and learning this country has seen in a generation.

State funding of undergraduate education will give way to a system largely funded - around 80 per cent - by graduates themselves once they are in work.

As a research fellow in San Francisco in the mid-80s, I once experienced a sizeable earthquake (6.0 on the Richter scale - certainly big enough to scare a British postdoc!). Comparison of the changes we are experiencing in higher education with a 'tectonic shift' somehow seems appropriate. We've seen a massive build-up of political and economic pressure (global recession, higher education reviews, a new coalition government, unprecedented cuts and austerity measures, public protest), and then, finally, a decision by Parliament which has transformed the landscape for the foreseeable future.

It's a transformation that we would not necessarily have chosen, any more than you would choose to experience an earthquake, but now that it's happened we have to deal with the consequences. Tuition fees for undergraduates of up to £9,000 are on the statute book and we must now deal with the shockwaves and prepare for our future.

This change in education funding has a parallel in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which transformed the research environment (and which continues to provoke ire in certain quarters*). Conceived in the 1980s as a means of making universities more accountable, the RAE really took off in the 1990s when it began to reward performance and inform core research funding.

Two things then happened. Across the board, the quality and professionalism of research went through the roof. The UK has always had world-class peaks of research excellence, but the quality and volume of research activity, papers and citations captured and generated in part for the RAE, has placed us second in the world. The other effect was to increase the concentration of funding into research-intensive universities, such as ours, which could evidence international excellence.

The comparison with research is not absolute, but the new graduate contribution regime also creates a link between performance and funding. Gone forever is the relative 'safe haven' of governmentfunded quotas. Successful recruitment to each degree programme will depend on the University's reputation and the excellence of our teaching and learning, manifested and measured in a variety of ways, including the National Student Survey, where our results are - to be blunt - patchy, ranging from very good indeed to lukewarm in some quarters.

We are witnessing the introduction of a system in which universities providing a high quality educational experience will be rewarded by applications from well-qualified and motivated students who are prepared to invest in their future. The arbiters will be students themselves and the only safe port for universities in this storm is fantastic quality. We are proud of our high standards and the quality of our degrees; students will arrive with commensurate expectations and we will need to continue to respond to that dynamic.

We know what we have to do. Our focus and ambition - the distinctive integration of scholarship, research and education, and developing outstanding graduates through exceptional, inspirational learning and teaching - was captured in the University's strategy map** back in 2005 following a campus-wide consultation taking in the views of our staff and students.

That objective has guided a huge range of activities aimed at enhancing our students' education, such as LeedsforLife, which placed personal tutoring at the heart of students' professional and academic development and helps students make the most of their time here and prepare for their future.

The recent change in our promotions criteria - so that teaching excellence is required and evidenced at every level, including the professoriate - demonstrates once again the centrality of teaching and learning to our mission. We now need to further embed that change in our culture. We will once again be engaging the whole campus about how we can best prepare for changes ahead in a series of discussions in schools and services on topics ranging from student employability to integrating research and impact. First up is a 'refresh' of the learning and teaching partnership agreement, to ensure it properly articulates the responsibilities and expectations of the University, its students and staff as partners in world-class education.

As reported elsewhere in this issue, our first postgraduate research conference was an outstanding success, from Kim Knott's moving and inspirational account of her early research career, and the life-changing and transferable skills the researcher process develops and enhances, through to the incredible range, variety andinterdisciplinarity of the work on display. The postgrads by and large don't know me from Adam (why should they?)so I was lucky enough to browse the poster competition and witness theirenthusiasm at first hand,without ceremony. It was a greatreminder of what we are all about.