As part of our University of the Future series, we spoke to leading institutions from across Europe to understand their vision for the future, and how they plan to realise these ambitions.
In this selection of interviews, we hear from our contributors about what’s on the horizon for higher education.
These are extended interviews that were conducted as part of the research for our University of the Future whitepaper. Read more from the University of the Future page series or download the whitepaper – What’s driving the vision for the University of the Future? – to explore how universities can embrace the opportunity to reimagine the university of the future.
Richard Walker, Head of the Programme Design and Learning Technology Team, University of York
A member of the prestigious Russell Group, the University of York is a dynamic, research-intensive university.
The university works collaboratively in partnership with institutions across the world to develop life-saving discoveries and new technologies that tackle some of the most pressing global challenges.
Its 30+ academic departments undertake groundbreaking research that underpins the University of York’s inspiring teaching and challenges students to dream big, think critically and change the world.
How has the University of York coped during the pandemic?
We’ve seen a profound change in the Higher Education sector in a very short space of time. Not least, with the lightning-quick transition to online teaching provision over the summer terms. This also had consequences for assessment planning – predominantly with a shift away from closed examinations to open assessments.
I wouldn’t equate this with a pivot to distance learning – that was already happening – but there’s no doubt that distance learning will be accelerated, given the changed position on PGT student recruitment and the Chinese market in particular, which will put pressure on the recruitment of students to campus-based courses, and traditional delivery.
What we have seen is how the whole university – professional services as well as teaching staff – is being exposed to digital collaboration and communication tools. Through remote working, we are seeing more creative approaches to team-working.
We’re continuing to work with departments on our approach for redesigning teaching and assessment activities to support flexible delivery and dual teaching methods that support both on-campus and remote learners.
Without a doubt, the current circumstances will accelerate the development of digital capabilities for staff and students – exposing them to new ways of working. We’re also developing training provisions which will address these requirements, and we’re building in accessibility principles to guide instructional design and online teaching practices. This commitment will ensure that teaching can be tailored to online platforms helping us deliver a better learning experience as a digital university.
How do you see teaching and learning changing as part of your vision for the University of York?
We’re moving towards a more personalised learner journey, and this is one of the key drivers behind our digital strategy.
We’re also looking at re-usable learning resources, for example, lectures not just being for students who are physically there in the room. There’s a lot of discussion around flipped learning and what a lecture is for. This all leads to conversations about how the role of the lecturer is changing to more of a learning manager/facilitator. It’s a big cultural shift.
To support this change, we need to ensure that staff have the skills they need to make the best use of the technology available, as part of their own professional development. Digital fluency and an understanding of accessibility requirements will also be a requirement for new staff joining us.
I think we all have to reflect on what we can do better and what the shortcomings are with the traditional learning experience. There will certainly be areas where we can reinforce current best practice, but others where we will need to embrace change.
For example, there’s a growing desire for interdisciplinary learning and having access to resources and lecture notes from other programmes. Enabling students to access and complete different courses helps to build their portfolios and broaden their skills.
Universities need to be open to the requirements of different types of learners. Students feel empowered and want choice – from those who want to completely study off-campus to those who want to combine a career with learning. Universities must be fully inclusive, and they need to look at outreach in a new way, if they’re to remain competitive and attract the highest calibre, students.
How will the University of the future make students more work-ready?
Employability is a key part of our institutional pedagogy. You can see this right across the board in the way the courses are designed. This also manifests itself in a number of other ways – from students developing digital portfolios that encourage them to reflect on their transferable skills to Electrical Engineering Masters students being encouraged to develop their public profile on LinkedIn. We’re also working with employers to define the skills that are required in the workplace and we are beginning to look into degree apprenticeships, in nursing, for example.
We have reviewed all undergraduate and postgraduate teaching programmes and identified a number of specific transferrable skills that students will be able to take with them into further research or the workplace.
How do you make the University of York feel like one community, regardless of how and where you choose to learn?
This is a big focus for us and we have a number of initiatives in place. We want to break down siloed learning journeys’, particularly for our distance learners. We’re strengthening our connections to students and finding new ways to bring diverse communities together.
For example, we’re running a new range of programmes on environmental issues and we’ll use technology more to bring these multi-discipline students together. We also want learners to be able to find each other based on their common interests.
We’re also trying to engage more with our alumni, enabling them to network with current students for example and collaborate on research projects or have access to up to date research. We want the University of York to be an international community of learners – bringing people together with similar interests, in their own countries and beyond.
Dr Richard Walker has over 20 years’ experience supporting learning technology developments within the higher education sector. He is currently employed by the University of York (United Kingdom), leading the strategic development of e-learning services as Head of the Programme Design and Learning Technology Team. This encompasses service management responsibilities for all key learning technology systems including the virtual learning environment, lecture recording and e-assessment solutions. He also coordinates curriculum developments for blended and fully online programmes and leads on staff development activities for the effective use of learning technologies in programme design and delivery.