This is a very strange moment in the UK, from where I write this blog entry. There are almost no flights in and out of the country due to the volcanic ash from Iceland, and international meetings have simply stopped. My morning had no commitments as the trip of our colleagues from the Arab Open University could not take place. The movement of people and goods across international boundaries has been slowed down hugely. Will we have bananas by next weekend? All of this is very important for the next meeting of the EDEN Executive committee which is due to meet this coming Friday in Budapest. We are going to have to cancel the face to face meeting and manage through a tele-conference.
We have some good experience to go with, as we held our second web-based Executive Committee meeting a week or so ago, dealing with some of the more straightforward business items. It was again very successful: you can see some of the screen shots that have been captured.
The last month saw me working further on the Curriculum strategy for the Open University. Our new Curriculum strategy seeks to bring about a simpler curriculum that will make it easier for students to achieve their qualification goals, and also to put more stress on work-related and professional curriculum for the future. Very few universities have a Pro-Vice Chancellor for Curriculum; in fact it is accurate to say that I have never come across another one! In fact the term curriculum in the sense of an overall view of what subjects a university teaches only came into common parlance in the UK perhaps 10 years ago (and was recognized in a book by David Watson and Jean Bocock ‘Managing the University Curriculum: Making Common Cause’). Up till then what universities taught was taken more as an unexamined issue: it was what academics wanted to teach and what the university agreed they could. The Open University however, as a mission-led university with a strong research identity has had a PVC Curriculum for some 20 years. This indicates the ways in which we have tried to deconstruct the curriculum from being a natural phenomenon to one that is constructed to meet audience needs, aligned of course with the University’s teaching priorities, external regulation from professional and other bodies, and the views of the academic community.
In the last period I have also given a keynote to the Universities’ Association for Lifelong Learning in Oxford , on the subject of Employer Engagement and Higher Education. My main theme was that we have to do a number of important things from Universities, addressing both our contribution to the skills needs of the economies and societies that we live and work in, but also helping those in the workplace to improve the career and livelihood possibilities, and helping employers to do this. This alignment of at least two missions seems to me important for universities above all: we have a mission that supports social justice as well as the professional education role that Universities have had in the so-called senior professions of medicine, law and engineering, now so much more varied in all sorts of occupational areas.
I also visited the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde (in Glasgow). I was very interested to learn more about the strong contributions that both universities make to their national Scottish context. The UK has changed very much over the last decade with devotion to the nations within the UK of Wales and Scotland, and more recently to the Assembly in Northern Ireland. This created interesting challenges for the Open University which was set up to engage with the UK as a whole before such changes, and we have to learn how for example we can serve specifically national needs in these countries. We have courses now in Scottish Law and Welsh and history which attempt to do just that, as well as making sure that our work in Nursing and Social Work for example meets the professional needs of Scotland. So the face of Europe changes in all sorts of ways, not least in the national identities that develop and change within the overall European framework.
Lastly, I should say that the preparations for the EDEN Annual Conference in Valencia are more or less complete , and I shall have time for one more blog entry before I hope meeting many of this blog’s readers there.