The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) are working "with experts" (that excludes me) on the development of a new guidance document for higher education providers on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). An initial draft looms, it seems, with a sector-wide consultation in the autumn, including a national event on November 5th.
Those who keep up with such matters may wonder why QAAHEA is producing further 'guidance' for institutions, when Hefce (that is, the hard-pressed tax-payer) has already spent over £200,000 on a 'Guide' to such matters (which also involved QAAHEA, and "experts"). I guess it’s because the first 'Guide' doesn’t actually offer all that much guidance. Either way, I hope that the new 'guidance' will manage to guide confused readers as to how it differs from the old 'Guide'. I am not travelling optimistically, however.
In a recent mailing about all this, the HEA says:
This work will form an important contribution to the advancement of ESD in HE as it will be published by QAA and HEA. The intention is to produce practical guidance that can be used by higher education providers wishing to work with students to foster their skills in this area. The emphasis is on an outcomes-based framework, which will inform rather than constrain curricula. Colleagues should note that this new guidance will not form an explicit part of the Quality Code but rather will sit alongside it, serving an enhancement function.
Well, we shall see, though the first sentence is not promising: wishful-thinking of a high order, I'd say, and hubristic.
I understand that "outcomes-based framework" is code for graduate attributes and work-related skills. However, because such things are highly contextual and contingent, they have largely to be developed in / through employment, and they are, in a real sense achieved through the length of a career, not before it begins. Thus, what gets done in HE can but be a preparation for this; a foundation which makes sense within the exigencies of the degree and associated experience. This is not to belittle what's proposed, just to set some limits.
The issue, then, is what does such an outcomes-based frame look like when it has to be equally applicable across the disciplines and diverse future jobs, for example:
Degree – Company
- Maths – RBS
- Fine Art – Sotherbys
- History – the Foreign Office
- Chem Eng – BP
- English – Mills & Boon
- Sociology – Barnardos
- Psychology – JWT
- German – European Commissiom
- Economics – Gazprom
- etc., etc.
This is quite a challenge, and the outcome surely cannot be generic.
In relation to graduate attributes, I still like the ones embodied in the Melbourne Experience as they seem realistic about only being a preparation, and are sufficiently broad to apply across the piece and be relevant to all students whatever they are studying. If I were taking the QAAHEA shilling, I'd start with Melbourne and wonder what needed to be added / changed. And my test of the merits of what is generated here is whether it's as good as Melbourne.
A possible cause for concern in all this is whether what's produced turns out to be an attempt to foreclose debate by being overly-definitive about what's important. I say this because some of those involved have form in this regard. Thus, is all this to be presented as a ready-meal to be digested by the reader, or will readers be able to negotiate a menu from the perspective of their dietary (ie, curriculum) needs.
As this is meant for HE – a transit camp for the terminally bloody minded – it had better be the second, as the first is no way to win hearts and minds.