Auditors discover why students, employers and academics love specialist higher education institutions
Specialist higher education institutions have been praised by quality auditors for their strong commitment to supporting their students and staff and working closely with employers and professional bodies.
The wide variety of colleges, institutes, university colleges, and universities that define themselves as “specialist” also have “appropriate arrangements” in place for maintaining academic standards and managing and enhancing the quality of learning they provide for their students, says a new report from the Quality Assurance Agency.
A summary of the conclusions of QAA audit reports contained in Outcomes from Institutional Audit: Specialist Institutions commends specialist institutions for their “commitment to hearing and responding to the student voice”, having a “collegiate culture and a strong commitment to the professional development of staff”, and “possessing a professional and vocational orientation” leading to “strong links … with the relevant industry or professional practice” that “enrich the student learning experience”.
The news has been welcomed by GuildHE, the body that represents many of the sector’s specialist institutions.
Alice Hynes, GuildHE’s Chief Executive, said: “This report highlights the real strengths of specialist institutions and benefits they bring to students, their employees, employers and other stakeholders, and the British economy. In doing so, it underlines the significant value of maintaining a diverse higher education sector rather than giving in to the idea that only large universities with a broad range of disciplines are worthy of support.
“The fact that many specialist institutions are growing in popularity faster than most traditional universities, as recent applications figures show, is testament to the excellent reputation they have among students. The conclusions of auditors summarised in the QAA’s report say a lot about why this is so.”
Numerous examples of good practice in GuildHE member institutions are cited in the report. For example, Harper Adams University College is praised for its use of professional advisers and links with employers and professional bodies and the way in which industrial placements for students are managed; University College Birmingham (formerly Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies) is commended for involving employers in curriculum design, delivery and review, and providing a wide range of staff development opportunities; and the Arts Institute at Bournemouth is cited for involving students as advisers in staff appointments and recognising the contribution of technician tutors to student learning.
Professor Wynne Jones, Principal of Harper Adams University College, said he was pleased to see the work his institution does with student placements featured in the report.
“We have always thought it very important that students should have the opportunity to learn and develop their skills in a work environment, even when the ‘sandwich year’ seemed to be going out of fashion in other areas. Now things have gone full circle and others are looking to follow our example.”
Professor Stuart Bartholomew, Principal of the Arts Institute at Bournemouth (due to become The Arts University College at Bournemouth on July 1), said: “It is gratifying to see the efforts of specialist institutions recognised in this report. Our specific focus and expertise allows us to offer a unique student experience.
“The Arts Institute (University College) is committed to building and maintaining relationships with its students; they are, after all, our raison d’etre and it is vital that we listen to and interact with them to ensure that we continue to provide an education of the highest quality and true relevance. Involving students in our academic staff recruitment process is one of the ways in which we achieve this and has proven to be a successful element in achieving our strategic goals.”
Paul Simpson, Deputy Principal of University College Birmingham, said: “I am pleased to see that auditors have recognised the value of the close relationship University College Birmingham has with employers and businesses, involving them in all stages of our programmes from the design of courses through to delivery and assessments. This helps to ensure that our courses are all relevant to the needs of industry and that our graduates are fully prepared to advance up the career ladder.”