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Anthony Smith: a week of openings

25 April 2013

The Vice-Provost (Education) discusses the various conferences he has opened over the past week and reflects on the most important aspects of each one.

Professor Anthony Smith, UCL's Vice-Provost (Education)

In the past week it has been my great honour to speak at the opening of four internal events and conferences at UCL. Each was very different from the others but all of them served to highlight the breadth and excellence of work being undertaken across UCL to enhance teaching and learning.

First was a workshop on marketing and student recruitment organised by the School of Life and Medical Sciences, where I was able to share some of the national and international trends in student numbers. Over the last five years the number of taught postgraduate students at UCL has increased by 38%, significantly exceeding the national average of 25%. Since 2010, numbers of full-time home postgraduate students nationally have remained broadly steady at about 75,000, whereas part-time numbers have declined by 27%.

One question posed to me by the workshop organisers was whether I thought further postgraduate student number growth would be sustainable. The great unknown for home and EU student numbers is how big the appetite for postgraduate study from 2015 onwards will be, as graduates will be carrying a greatly increased debt from their undergraduate studies.

Whilst there is uncertainty here, global demand for higher education is set to increase from 178 million students in 2010 to greater than 260 million in 2025, driven mainly by the rapidly growing economies. Moreover, the global market in e-learning is set to exceed $100 billion annually by 2015 and data from the US indicate that approximately one-third of students have a significant online component to their studies. The challenge for us in continuing to refresh our curricula is to ensure that students benefit not only from contact with our outstanding staff but also that our pedagogical approaches reflect a more blended approach to student learning.

My second opening speech of the week was at the first meeting of the Teaching Spaces Services Improvement project. This project is being led by Steve Rowett from E-Learning Environments (ELE) and is seeking to do exactly what its title suggests. The team understands there is a lot of frustration with the quality and lay-out of some teaching spaces, but there is genuine will to work collaboratively and seek substantial improvements.

The week’s third opening was of the fourth Teaching Administrators’ Conference. More than 100 were present from the 300-strong network. This has grown into a very important network for sharing good practice across UCL, with topics ranging from e-learning to load models. The network has achieved much in a relatively short period of time including the Digital Department/Certified Membership of the Association of Learning Technologists programme to a handbook for all new staff in Teaching Administrator roles.

Finally, I opened a conference jointly organised by the UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT), ELE and the UCL Careers Service on ‘Embedding Skills and Employability into the Curriculum’. UCL Biology alumnus Jat Sahota got the meeting off to a great start. Since graduating from UCL in 1990, Jat has held a number of senior roles with Sainsbury’s PLC, where he is currently Head of Pharmacy and Healthcare.

Jat described the key differentiators that highly selective employers like Sainsbury’s are seeking for their graduate development programmes. Last year, 5,500 people applied to the Sainsbury’s scheme and 20 were successful, including one from UCL. Judging by the room's textwall, which allowed delegates to feed in comments and questions in real-time, Jat’s comments about the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) as manifested in judgement, drive and influence, certainly struck a chord.

There will be many who can comment on EI with far greater authority than me, but it is clear that attempting to teach ‘emotional intelligence 101’ is not going to be the answer. Rather, both through the curriculum and in extracurricular activities we can provide our students with opportunities to develop their judgement, drive and influence. These are at the core of UCL’s Education for Global Citizenship strategy and the new Global Citizenship Programme running for the first time this year in pilot form exemplifies this. Numbers on the pilot programme are limited to approximately 250, but do please encourage your first-year undergraduate students to participate – there are a few places still available.

Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education)

Page last modified on 25 apr 13 13:37

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