A Sustainable Higher Education Academy? Not quite yet

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

The Higher Education Academy [HEA] has an advisory group on ESD of which I am a member.  The Academy also has a new Strategic Plan (2012–2016).  Sadly, this is not all it might be.  It begins ...

This is a dynamic strategy that we will regularly review so that we remain flexible and proactive in meeting the needs of the higher education community, and in developing new business at home and internationally.  As champions of excellence in learning and teaching, and as a national body for enhancing learning and teaching in higher education throughout the UK, our strategic priorities directly reflect that sentiment:

  • to inspire and support effective practice in learning and teaching;
  • to recognise, reward and accredit excellent teaching;
  • to influence policy, future thinking and change.
Good stuff, obviously; a bit florid perhaps, but, ... .
The HEA's Priority 1 is to inspire and support effective practice in learning and teaching.   In the addressing challenges section of this, the Plan says this:

... supporting the higher education community to rise to contemporary challenges such as satisfying greater expectations with less resource, flexible delivery, equality and diversity, assessment and feedback, education for sustainable development, reward and recognition, employability and internationalisation.

So, despite its Advisory Group's best efforts, the HEA sees ESD just as it does assessment and feedback, employability, or reward and recognition, as a "contemporary challenge".   Whilst it may be politically useful to be in (rather than not in) such a list, it is changing our reckless global economic system which is the contemporary challenge which both HEA and the wider society faces, not ESD.  ESD is one response to this very existential predicament, just as there are policy and practice responses to the need for better feedback to students within, and greater equality of access by students to, HE.

Is this just a careless category error, or a more disturbing confusion of ends and means?  Well, the list is such a conflation of ideas and issues that it's hard to know – and difficult to believe too much thought went into its compilation.

The HEA's Priority 4 is to develop an effective, sustainable organisation that is relevant to and valued by higher education.  In the securing financial sustainability section of this, it says:

... we will seek to secure new sources of revenue, for instance by providing services to international institutions or agencies and expanding our subscription base.

This everyday use of sustainable and sustainability is understandable, as almost everyone else does this, but it's a curse for those who'd encourage greater clarity of thinking and language.  Understandable, maybe, but is it forgivable?  I'm left wondering whether the ESD Advisory Group is just not very effective — or whether the HEA is just intent on not listening.  And now that the senior manager inside the Academy who championed ESD is off to further enhance quality at Abertay, I fear the worst.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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