Speaker: Professor Christine King, Emeritus Professor, Staffordshire University

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Transcript: Graduates for the 21st Century

Introduction: Professor Philip Winn, University of Strathclyde

Speaker: Professor Christine King, Emeritus Professor, Staffordshire University

Event: Symposium Series Event Date: 11 October 2011

Location: Glasgow Caledonian University

The final speaker for this session, I'm again entirely delighted to introduce Professor Christine King - Chris King - Emeritus Professor from Staffordshire University. Chris is an historian of religion with two major areas of interest. She has an international reputation for her research and work on the history of minority religious groups such as Jehovah's

Witnesses during the Third Reich. She also researches and writes on medieval and modern pilgrimage and has made a particular study of the secular objects of devotion, with particular reference to Elvis Presley and pilgrimage to Memphis. I think that's the breadth of discipline here. As an educationalist, she is an active and recognised champion of Access and

Inclusion and in 2008 was called upon by the then government to undertake a review of part time study as part of the larger debate that Peter Mandelson had initiated on the future of higher education. She is a champion and campaigner for diversity with a particular interest in the role of women in public life. Christine was awarded a CBE for her services to higher education. It is a great pleasure to have you with us here today and we look forward very much to what you're going to tell us and what we're going to learn.

Thank you very much. I discreetly keep out of the notes. I have just recently finished a longish term as Vice Chancellor of Staffordshire University - one of the first women in England anyhow to be appointed to that job - and when I was appointed, the first day I tipped up, as you do in that kind of job, to meet as many staff as possible. There was

actually an exhibition of art and design by some staff and for once people were listening and wondering what I might say and I just said the three words that for me are what higher education is about, which is students come first. And two colleagues who left shortly afterwards came up to me and said that may be the case but it's totally tasteless of you to rub our noses in it. I'm going to keep on doing that because as students, whatever phrase where we talk about the student centred learning, the phrase that I would use is students come first is absolutely key I think to some of the things that I want to say about change.

What fabulous talks we've had. I'm really grateful to my colleagues. I mean, I will try not to repeat. I agree with a lot they say, I like to argue with a lot they've said, but they've been absolutely stunning. And I've been thrilled and I am really delighted to be here, to be part of this, this debate. And I do wish you well in it. It's a very important one.

And I think as we heard in our very first talk - actually both of them - you know, it's really important that universities in Scotland, in the UK, in the world - but let's talk about Scotland - are the major forces in society in 100 years' time, that they are now and have been in the past. And it is by no means obvious that that will be the case. Without change, I suspect, they won't; certainly not in the numbers that they are, certainly not with the impact that they have. So there's a very heavy burden and also a very exciting challenge facing you now to begin not to just respond to change but to shape change very radically. And I think that's what we're going to see.

We've talked a lot this afternoon about the changes in society and I know you've been part of that debate before in talking about who is the graduate in the 21st century? I suppose I'd

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want to highlight the network society as the really critical change. I think we can't get away from that. I'd also want to talk about the costs. Coming from England, of course I'm very aware of that debate and very aware of the difference for you. Nevertheless, I'm sure study is very expensive for your students. Life is very expensive for your students, even if they're not paying the fees in the same way that the English students will be doing. And I'd also want to celebrate and acknowledge the widening of the student profile, the widening of inclusion and participation that we've witnessed over the last, I don't know, 20 years or so that has changed the face of higher education forever and needs to go on, both

internationally and locally - nationally - as well.

And I guess my starting point then, having said students come first, is that I know we're all here with one shared agenda at least - we'll have lots of differences and lots of views - and that's that we believe in our students. We believe in our students past, present and future to change their lives, our lives and the lives of the people around us for the better. And I guess that's why we're in the business - whatever bit of the business - we're in. And it's very important not to forget that so it is our responsibility with them, I think, to begin to shape a future where they can really make that happen in very difficult times that are going to go on, as we've heard, being difficult.

So I'm going to just spend a couple of minutes on a number of issues related to the curriculum and just throw out some ideas. Some of these are based on the experience, things that we've done at Staffordshire. I left in August, I think I can still say "we". I'll practise saying "Staffordshire have done". I certainly worked with colleagues. Some of them won't be relevant to you, some of them may be of interest, some you may think are not workable. But if they're not workable, I think my challenge to you is to say, why not and what's the

alternative?

So let's start with a timetable and the calendar. And for each of these topics I want to take my three mantras really which are students first. We're long term so it isn't five years, it isn't 10 years, it is 50 or 100. That five and that 10 must encompass 100. And for me we're talking flexibility and exploring a bit what that might mean. So if we do say students come first, and I think how Christina picked up the debate about research and teaching is very, very relevant. I won't go into that again but I think it's a - those very wise and important words.

If students really do come first, are we willing to look at the way in which we do things from the perspective of student need and changing student need and diverse student needs? So I don't know if you already do run 24/7, 52 access to libraries. At Staffordshire we introduced a 24/7 but we didn't manage to work 52 weeks and, you know, we would find groups of international students for whom a Christmas holiday really was not very meaningful - it was too far to go home, and so on - and services were closed to them. It's not acceptable. So minimally - and I'm not going to be talking about services today but - we need to think about the services we offer to students who are living and working in a 24/7, 52 world. Whether they're international students, whether they're local students, their lives are much more complex. They are networked internationally and on a 24 hour basis. That is their life, that is their reality. We need to match that.

The really interesting challenge comes then around the curriculum. Are we willing to look at a 24/7, 52 academic experience? And I would like to challenge you - I'm sure this debate is live - do we need terms, do we need semesters and why do we need them? We need them actually and we have them because they are the dates of the medieval calendar - the

medieval church - from which our universities emerged. How can we continue to justify those from the point of view of students?

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Now I know the noble and much envied tradition of four year degrees here is something that you treasure. I was very interested in yesterday's paper to read an article about Dundee's experience with three years. I have to tell you at Staffordshire we run very, very successful two year degrees - from a three year basis of course, not like your four year. Those two year degrees which worked right through the summer holidays, right through the normal vacation time, have been well received by particular kinds of students - not all but particular kinds - and extremely well received by employers and results in the sense that they have been quality checked and so on appear to be as good if not better than people studying comparable things over three years.

The reason that we stop for long summer holidays and we stop with great blocks of time is because we always have and our contracts are arranged around that. Now we didn't have staff teaching all year, every day - I'll talk later on about staff. They also worked flexible patterns but that whole flexibility has begun to impact on other courses and other curricula.

Some areas - like nursing, some other professions of course - already work in this kind of way but it is a real challenge to ask you to see things in very discrete chunks.

So flexibility, not as an add on but as a norm, I would like to suggest is the way forward because within that you can still do terms and semesters if that's what people want. You can morph over time. But actually if we really, seriously looked to the students - some of the students now and students of the future - we would need to make that much more encompassing.

Let's have a look within that at the means of delivery. I won't talk a great deal about this because Christina has very eloquently but if we talk about her Second Life agenda and we talk about not just the use of online study but the challenges that brings. It's very easy to access superb lectures from Harvard online for free. What does that do for the university and its power and its knowledge? I'll talk a little bit more later about staff. But what I'm again saying is it's about flexibility. If we do continue to be inclusive in our recruitment of students - and I very much hope we do, not just because that's a moral good but because that is a pragmatically very sensible business decision so that our students all experience people from all walks of life and all countries of the world - then we will inevitably find people who want to study in different ways, at different times. And we could all make out pathways of typical students. We can run these kind of stories about somebody who signs up for a three or four year term or semester based course who actually then wants to take six months out to study at home, or who wants to do some of their work online or who wants to gain their own work experience and wants to have a more flexible way of study. And we have to, I believe, encompass that and really be prepared for that and to be operating in that way.

I would suggest that in the future we're going to see a lot more people - and I don't think this is necessarily related to fees but it may be related to the cost of study, the cost of living - who we will find difficult to know whether they really are part time or full time. I don't know how much your students already work, stacking shelves or in professions or whether simply to earn enough money to live. It's certainly the norm in England for students to be working, sometimes almost full time jobs. And I would want us to think about removing the difference between part time and full time as a category and to look carefully at chunks of work that students are doing and how we can assess those.

We've talked about peer group work. I won't say that again but again, I think there are very, very many different ways of organising ourselves.

Let's have a think about subjects. Again, thinking long term, thinking students first, thinking flexibility. We've heard from both our speakers eloquently about the value of interdisciplinary work and so on. I think I want to ask the following questions: what role might students have in designing your courses, in determining those crossing of interdisciplinary boundaries?

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What role might future employers have in the design of courses? What is the university's responsibility? Again, we've heard of this. Is it to provide workers for the future, citizens for the future? Actually I think we've heard there's not much difference; they go together.

And how much do we accept the fact that the subject base that we know will be changed perhaps in an unrecognisable way within 10, 15 years, 20 years? I mean, we know that universities were set up in medieval times to train lawyers, to train theologians, to train doctors. Those things still matter. But we know that actually the new professions, the new language of the new world is different. It is about media, it is about the economics, it is about the creative arts, it is about understanding society, it is about understanding multi-faith, multicultural understanding. Will those subjects replace the subjects that we have? Indeed, will the concept of a discipline and a subject stay static at all?

In England there is a real snobbery that I think you probably - I'm almost certain - you don't have in many ways, but around the applied. So there's a - if the media talks about training students, there's an assumption that it is a slightly lower level university although of course we train doctors and we train lawyers. And there is a real hierarchy and the league tables of course do reflect this and we've heard how research is one of the key registers in this.

Actually I would want to say - and I think you are so much closer to this than England and you've got so much to teach the rest of the world about this but there is a risk that you might lose it in a more flexible future - and that is universities with different missions, with different patterns of applied and pure disciplines need to be recognised as equal but different and to need to recognise each other as equal but different. And for that, the research conundrum needs to be sorted. I've got views on that and how that might be regionally, nationally shared but that's not today's topic.

Assessment. How much longer can we lock students in rooms with a biro? I couldn't write for three hours with a pen now, I don't think. Or two hours, or four hours or whatever. I'm not used to writing with a pen. You know, I write with a keyboard. Different students need different kind of assessments. We come up across this very much with students with

disabilities, finding ways of cutting into their ability and allowing them to communicate in the way that is appropriate for them. Why should that be any different? And I would like to suggest that what we're assessing - what we're really assessing - and how we assess it really needs to come high on your agenda as you talk about the curriculum and change.

Partnerships. I know that you talk of students as partners and I think in England we talk more of students as customers or clients. I don't think that's actually very different. Linguistically it's different but I think that the principle is probably the same. I would like to talk to you about other partnerships - again, a very different pattern in England to your story and history here. The pattern of higher education working with further education is much stronger. Many English universities are now withdrawing from that. Staffordshire has a very strong

partnership with its 12 local FE partners who teach the first two years of many of the degrees in those colleges you can reach far more people. Many of them will compete at Staffordshire or online or over time. Again, a good model of this flexibility. Not everybody can afford to or wants to do three or four years at a trot but can actually get themselves into different ways and different places.

I think we all need to think about the private sector which is rising. I would look very much to partnership with the private sector. I think there is enough work to be done. We should not go into head on conflict but the private sector will provide a challenge, as indeed,

international universities will provide a challenge. We have options. We can fight or we can work together and I think that needs to be an initiative that needs to be taken fairly early. It may soon become too late for that.

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I give just one small story from Staffordshire about how we've tried to build a partnership with schools and further education. One of the sets of campuses is on Stoke-on-Trent. If anybody knows Stoke-on-Trent, it's very rundown, poor area. We're about to rebuild the campus but we're rebuilding it as one campus with the local Sixth Form college and the further education college. We will be sharing the expensive labs and equipment with different timings and so on. Students - best students, the top students - in the Sixth Form college and the FE college will be studying at the university picking up credits in their final year of their equivalent of A-levels. But there will be lots of movement. So for languages, for example, where we want Mandarin to be taught, the FE college is much better at doing it than the university is just because you have a degree, why would you need to go to a university to study an ab initio language?

So the partnerships that are emerging, the very, very positive business initiatives that are emerging - because businesses actually don't want to know, do I go to a university, do I go to a college - those are actually emerging very strongly. Students working together,

mentoring, peer to peer, all the stuff that we've heard about is looking very, very successful and it is changing the face - literally - of a very poor city and a community and increasing confidence all round. So I think if we dismiss further education as saying it's lower, it's

different, it's not economically viable for us to be engaged with them, we just need to be sure exactly what we're saying and why.

Students. Could say so much about students but we've heard so much. I think the important thing - I don't know how many people and I won't ask - but I guess a lot of us in this room are still students - are students. We're perhaps - a show of hands? Anybody? Yeah? You know, a lot of us are students. People are going to be students all their lives. If we're smart, we'll be students all our lives. Not only for our professions and our careers but for our intelligence, our citizenship, our health and everything else. So when we talk about students, we need to stop talking about the 18 to 21 year old as the norm and the full time as the norm. That is not necessarily going to be the norm. Our students are very diverse. They will become even more diverse and it is only a flexible system - a genuinely flexible system - that will allow us to navigate through those different diversities.

As we've heard, again, students will both want to live at home and travel the world; either or both. They will always value the creative that has come to us through the new networked world. That isn't just about IT and buttons, it is - Second Life is very creative - it is about creativity. One of the things I've learned most from my students is about the creativity that they can bring to whatever their subject base is and we need to be able to access and learn this.

So we will have students, full time, part time, studying four years, three years, two years, one year, adding as we go along. Could we really activate or reinvent a genuinely not just

European but global credit system so that people really can transfer and move? That requires a respect for equal but different. I have to admit that I tried very hard at

Staffordshire to set up credit exchange between some of my students and some of the - I'll call them richest - universities. I won't call them top because what is top, what is quality?

And the argument was always well, actually, are you comparable? If we believe equal but different, if we believe in different missions then let's get that transfer moving and we can begin to change things amazingly. We will want people studying roll on, roll off. Staffordshire has a big programme for soldiers in Afghanistan who can work through 12 - they just work on rolling calendar. And when they're away and fighting they can't study, they pick it up again. People's lives are very complicated. Students are all of us.

We need to look again at A power and all of that accreditation of informal learning. People learn in all kinds of ways and we need to see what that can mean for us. I like very much the concept that Sjur told us about, the intellectual, that it's the knowledge and the skills but also

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the radicalism that comes from that. The people who've taught me most about that have been my students. We maybe have to listen to them a bit more.

Staff. I absolutely agree with the issues about promotion criteria and teaching and I guess we would in this room. But I'd want to say something else. The second thing that I did at Staffordshire all those years ago, having said students come first, was to outlaw the use of the phrase "non-academic staff". I mean, I know people don't use that anymore but at that time it described people by what they didn't do. Now it seems to me every member of staff in the university from the principal to the cleaner is there for the students and they all play an important role. And in fact many of the cleaners at my university were the people who were counselling and supporting students because they were there when students were there late at night or early in the morning or whatever. We are all in this together.

That is one kind of principle but more importantly, as the nature of knowledge changes, so the role of staff will change and is changing radically. Academic staff no longer are the owners of knowledge in their area. That no longer belongs to us. I say it with some sadness of years of teaching and the pleasure of talking to a large lecture theatre and thinking, I am the expert on that. I now know that students will have heard others, seen others, know other things before they come that lecture and around that. So we are no longer professors. We who teach are no longer professors. We are the guardians, we are the people who help students find their pathway, find their way into the world and make sense of the plethora of knowledge - some helpful, some rubbish - that is being bombarded at us the whole time.

Guardians and guides, really; not the professors and not the owners.

And if we look at it like that then the role of people who are administrators, people who are professional supporters, people who are librarians, who are technicians - who have all kinds of skills that actually often teaching research staff aren't necessarily skilled in - can help the students in the real world expression. So many of the secretaries and administrators in Staffordshire undertook work with students on presenting word processed essays in early days, worked with students who were on the wrong side of the digital divide to bring them up to date. So if you think about it, there is a whole way in which we can totally rethink what is staff in the new world.

Couple of final points. The university, where next? Higher education is expensive, as I say, whether we're paying fees or not. The university is a service. It is a commodity. The fact that Scottish students do not pay £9,000 doesn't mean to say I believe that they won't see higher education as a product and I don't think that has to be bad. It has negative connotations but it doesn't have to be. They are our clients, they are our customers, we are a service to them.

We are not a secret garden willing to open our gates every so often and let a few in to share our knowledge. It doesn't belong to us anymore. The world doesn't belong to us anymore.

We're all in this together and it is that new kind of partnership where we forge, with all the skills and the strength and the knowledge that universities have, that we build a new future.

If we get it right, if we're flexible, if we're really recognising the diversity of our students, if we work around their timing and their needs, if we grow our understanding of our subjects in and between disciplines - in this country, around the world - if we develop our skills as a whole staff base and as peers, to help each other grow and learn and know - given our separate expertises - then higher education and the university sector can play the really transforming role that society needs. I love the idea of the billions that we might create but I also like what we heard about citizens and the transformation powers of learning.

So I think society will get the radicals it needs. That's the job of university, for me: to create and produce radicals. People, whether they go into the professions, whether they go into the home, whether they're employed, they're unemployed, whether they're mature and learning, they are radicalised. They are asking questions, they're no longer willing to accept simple

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solutions. They are the people who learn to find solutions and that is the great gift that we have to share with students. Therefore the universities in their change need to be a real point of radical departure and the last thing that we need to be is trying to hold back the tide, like Cnut.

There will be of course for society economic payback and we haven't talked about that much this afternoon but we need to. Society will get leaders, it'll get innovation and change, it'll get a global society, it'll get - if it will fund it - better health for older people. There is such

research on the reduced costs to the health service from people who are older and who learn. Lower dementia rates and so on, all of those things that we could do. It will get stability rather than political extremism and it will get - what I think your green paper said it wants - a wealthier, fairer, safer, stronger, greener Scotland.

It is a long term vision. Some of the things I'm talking about of course won't happen overnight but I do think we have to start them now. We have to start thinking and talking about them now. And to do so produces some risks. This is a lot of change. This changes the core of what we're about, if you like - our subjects, our product. There are issues about quality that we need to look at. There are issues about reputation all the time. There are league tables around the world and they are judged on research rather on the output of students. That is a risk.

But the risk of not changing is much higher. One obvious risk is that the whole participation and inclusion agenda could just disappear. If universities stay as they are and don't flex timetables, calendars, ways of working and so on then the group of people who will be attending will narrow again and there could be all kinds of economic reasons why this might be the case but to everybody's loss. It will become the secret garden again, just opening the doors occasionally, and they won't change the world. And if we don't change the world, actually, nobody's going to. Those of us involved in education, in higher education, with students know that's the secret that everybody in this room holds. So we have a fantastic potential and a really very, very strong responsibility.

So there is a risk that we could just be museums or those little huts with an imaginary line coming at the wrong angle. I don't think it will be but it will take a lot of courage and I need to say that if you can't do it in Scotland then I don't think anybody can. So I will follow your journey with tremendous interest and I wish you good luck. Thank you.

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