Posted tagged ‘University of Dundee’

What’s another year?

September 29, 2011

How long should a degree programme fit for the modern world be? Two years? Three? Four? More? This is an issue that is certain to be increasingly hotly debated, as both universities and governments search for ways in which public money can be saved.

Right now there are European processes that are moving towards some standardisation regarding programme length, but in the meantime the pressure on institutions is to make them shorter. This is a matter of special interest in Scotland, where most degree programmes run for four years (as against the English standard of three years). But now Dundee University has decided to give a lead, and so it has announced that in future some (but not all) of its courses will be shorter. This has created some negative reactions amongst educationalists, but has also brought out some supporters of the change.

In what way does this matter? It does so primarily because the duration of a degree programme should not be seen to be just an organisational matter. It should be part of a significant pedagogical debate in the academy. It may well be that, at the end of this process and Bologna notwithstanding, there will be a greater variety of undergraduate programmes, with an array of teaching methods and pedagogical perspectives. The length of a programme may come to be determined by such perspectives.

Cutting university jobs

October 22, 2010

As in Ireland we move towards the December Budget and Book of Estimates, one thing to watch out for is whether the so-called ‘Employment Control Framework’, under which universities and colleges are required to reduce staffing year on year, continues in operation. Since this was introduced, institutions have had to reduce staff numbers by 6 per cent between December 2008 and December 2010. This reduction has pushed most universities to the point where they cannot be sure that they can properly run all their academic programmes, or run them to normal quality requirements. Further reductions will make require the system to consider other ways of offering higher education, as the existing model will become unworkable.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the University of Dundee has announced that it will cut up to 193 posts for budgetary reasons, with the possibility that further savings will need to be sought later (not least in the light of any funding reductions for Scottish universities that may flow from the UK government’s spending review). Across the UK there will be a number of other universities that will have to take similar or more drastic steps.

A key metric used to identify teaching excellence in universities in these islands has always been the student to staff ratio, in part because it has been the view in academic circles that small group teaching is a vital learning tool. This is now eroding at some speed. We could suggest that it never really mattered all that much in the first place, but that could not easily be done with any credibility; or we will need to start looking at new and less labour-intensive pedagogical methods. Given the speed at which changes are coming at us, we don’t have much time to do this.