What issues are we trying to solve?

This summary highlights some of the common strategic challenges which emerged from the bids submitted under JISC Circular 05/08 ‘Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design.’  A total of 55 bids were submitted for this call, including 7 from further education colleges.  There were six submissions from Welsh institutions, one from Northern Ireland, five from Scotland and the remaining bids from institutions in England.  12 proposals are being funded, all from higher education institutions representing all parts of the UK. 

The sector is operating in a climate of rapid change in which institutions need to develop more responsive, flexible and agile business and curriculum processes to better meet the needs of diverse stakeholders.  The contribution of learners, employers, professional bodies and a range of national and local agencies to influencing the development of the curriculum at different levels is recognised as increasingly important if relevant, demand-led programmes are to be delivered.  This raises a number of challenges for institutions such as engaging effectively with stakeholders to bring about institutional change, developing more dynamic and flexible business processes and ensuring and enhancing quality.  A key requirement of the call was that institutions submitting proposals demonstrate a strong institutional commitment to curriculum design, a feature which was evident in the majority of proposals showing how important this area is to the sector.

Strategy and Policy
The bids demonstrate different strategic approaches to curriculum design; some are looking to consolidate their raison d’être by developing sustainable strategies for curriculum development,  others are shifting their institutional priorities to adapt to a changing and challenging market place and others are about transformational change.  A clear commonality is the recognition of a need to support whole-institution reform, develop a flexible infrastructure and streamlined processes for curriculum design to ensure responsiveness and agility and stategically address barriers to change e.g. internal systems and processes, diverse cultural values.   The sector is addressing some fundamental issues such as developing citizenship, developing lifelong learning, internationalisation and sustainability and recognises the role technology can have in driving these processes. The challenge is to embed technology across teaching, learning, research, administration and decision-making.

Employability and employer engagement
Enhancing employability to ensure the global competitiveness of the UK is a key driver for the sector and reinforced by a range of initiatives across learning providers such as the introduction of 14-19 diplomas, the expansion of apprenticeships and the development of foundation degrees.   Employers and professional bodies play a critical role in influencing curricula which develop relevant knowledge, skills and attributes and engaging them in the curriculum design process is a key challenge for the sector. This is reflected across institutional missions and values which aspire to become more ‘professionally-focused’ or ‘employer-facing’. The sector is also becoming increasingly competitive with a growing diversity of learning providers.  Institutions are particularly vulnerable to changing demands and need to develop more flexible processes to review and adapt their learning provision.  However, working in partnership particularly at regional level can help strengthen their role as learning providers and some of the challenges institutions have highlighted include:

  • Developing more formalised partnerships with local employers
  • Reinforcing the regional/local dimension to skills development
  • Developing more responsive internal business processes to enable external input into the curriculum design process
  • Developing  a more holistic approach to design models which engage a range of stakeholders e.g. employers, professional bodies, learners, other learning providers, local agencies
  • Developing collaborative working models between regional partners to create common curriculum design processes
  • Diversify (or even contract) the curriculum offering and delivery methods to meet demand and increase competitiveness
  • Develop niche professional courses to enhance competitiveness

Change Management
These are institutional change projects so internal as well as external engagement is necessary as Institutions recognise the importance of managing change effectively and that supporting staff in the change process is critical to its success.  Engagement and buy-in from tutors, support staff, managers is essential for institutional change and innovation to be effective as is developing a sense of ownership of the change.  The stronger bids sought to address this challenge by articulating change strategies to ensure this such as involving a range of stakeholders at project inception and seeking to build a strong business case for change addressing individual stakeholder needs.

Quality and Processes
Adapting policies and procedures to ensure flexibility in curriculum design processes whilst assuring and enhancing quality is a significant challenge and requires an institutional approach for change and transformation to take place.  Moving from monolithic to flexible and agile institutional infrastructures involve changing a range of institution-wide processes and policies from timetabling and room booking to validation and review procedures to resource allocation models.   Institutions which have been created as part of a merger have an added challenge of realigning divergent curriculum design processes inherited from legacy institutions.  Common institutional approaches to these issues include:      

  • Exploring how technology can streamline paper-based processes
  • Building capacity, adapt or redefining current structures to involve a wider range of stakeholders in the curriculum design process
  • Examining internal resource distribution models which are a barrier to interdisciplinary collaboration in curriculum development
  • Developing a more holistic framework to address fragmentation of the curriculum as an unintended consequence of modularisation.  This includes developing processes which rationalises duplicate modules running across different programmes and relates to developing more interdisciplinary approaches
  • Develop a continuous review process which is more dynamic, responsive, transparent and adaptable than an annual process
  • Improve the interoperability and flexibility of IT systems to support more agile processes.

The Learner Experience
Widening participation, student engagement and retention, lifelong learning and employability are key agendas driving institutions to enhance the learner experience and place the learner at the centre of the curriculum design process.  A challenge across the sector is to deliver curricula to an increasingly diverse population of learners.  This includes supporting the requirements of geographically dispersed learners, work-based learners, part-time learners, those engaged in CPD and ‘non-traditional’ learners as well as full-time, campus-based students.   The development of flexible and adaptable structures to support diversity is critical to institutions seeking to widen participation and expand the quality of the learning experience.   Some institutions are focused on enhancing student curriculum choice through the individualisation of the curriculum, for example through negotiated learning contracts.  Others are looking to develop institutional learning cultures, for example around inquiry-based learning or assessment for learning.  Enabling choice is important but supporting learners in understanding the impact of choices is essential.  With a focus on meeting student expectations, a number of institutions want to develop design methodologies and processes which enable more active participation of learners in designing their learning as well as in the validation and quality enhancement process. 

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