We all needed at least a cup of tea after Round 1, but there is more to come from Kate Godfrey, the Provost, Professor Mark Peel, and their underpinning ‘proof text’ – the statistics presented by the University on its web-site and in correspondence during the ‘consultation process’.
Shorter and sweeter – two themes here – the present and the future… don’t get them confused…
and remember, as Professor Peel said on air, ‘Vaughan has often shown the way’.
at the moment we’re doing that better across the rest of the University and as an indication only 6 percent of the part-time courses are delivered through Vaughan. 30 percent of our students are part-time, 60 percent of those students are what we call Lifelong Learners (Kate Godfrey, Radio Leicester, 26th September)
‘Across the rest of the University’ provides a very broad context for this statement. It is true that the University of Leicester has a lot of part-time learners.
The University continues to support all modes of study and particularly part-time and distance learners who account for 31% of the total student population (6,184 based on 2014/15 annual review). 63% of these PT/DL students are mature learners.
However, these part-time students are nearly all post-graduates. In 2014/5 there were 6184 students on part-time courses across the University, but only 91 were home undergraduates studying part-time.
Part-time study is a popular and often a necessary route to an MA or other higher qualification, but it is different from the part-time undergraduate courses offered through the Vaughan Centre.
Post-graduate students are nearly always over 21. They are ‘mature’ by definition. So it is no surprise that over sixty percent of them are (or probably self identify) as ‘mature learners’ or as Kate Godfrey glosses it, ‘Lifelong Learners’.
The number of part-time courses (and the levels of students) at Vaughan are unsurprisingly small compared with the broad range of post-graduate qualifications offered through University of Leicester (hence 6 percent).
It is important to understand what these figures really are, as they surely lie behind the University’s statement that Vaughan’s contribution to the delivery of part-time courses seen as a ‘proportion’ is too small to justify its continuation: It is the University’s view that the level of annual subsidy required to continue delivering the proportion of our part-time and flexible learning courses from Vaughan is unsustainable.
The University also has trouble remembering which of these courses are open to new students at present and how many there are exactly, see the unpicking of claims of over 100 distance learning courses in Private Eye.
offering more part-time learning across the University we can deliver the same outcomes but slightly more cost effectively’ (Kate Godfrey 26th August)
Let’s look at what’s happening at the moment. In 2014/5 there were those 91 home undergraduates studying part-time across the University. There are 8 part-time courses for undergraduate study currently offered (outside the Vaughan and Highfields Centre). Four are accessible distance learning courses. Four are part-time routes for Humanities disciplines for students who have conventional qualifications and are able to study in the day time.
The latter four courses have no registered students at present, making them, at least ‘slightly’ more cost effective, but possibly less educationally effective.
Innovations such as lecture capture, Minors or the extension of the length of the teaching day are implicitly presented as answers to this current very low level of part-time undergraduate provision. After all, the University claims it ‘remains deeply committed to widening participation and lifelong learning and to placing new flexible study at the heart of our education delivery’. The closure of VCLL enables the University leadership to push these changes more forcibly on main campus – no one can say, ‘but students who want flexibility or fringe hours teaching can go to Vaughan’.
But this meagre present is also why it is so important for the University to talk about the future..
Back to the Future
During the closure of the Vaughan College building in 2013 the University gave repeated public assurances which have often figured in this debate. For example, the University of Leicester web-site still displays this page:
‘Vaughan College move underlines our commitment to adult learning’.
- 5 of the Strategic Plan, developed under the current University management, also declares a general commitment to ‘Being accountable for our actions and promises’. And in the eyes of many, a ‘promise’ has been broken.
When questioned on Radio Leicester (13th September), the Provost, Professor Mark Peel said of the University’s commitment:
I don’t see it as a pledge, I see it as a challenge.
Vaughan has often shown the way. What I would say is that we are asking whether there are other ways and better ways to meet that pledge, to meet that obligation.
A pledge or promise binds to the past… ‘a challenge’ (like mandate) appears to orientate itself to the future. The University’s argument is that the obligation/ commitment remains, but centralised, specialist provision of mature Higher Education, as at the Vaughan Centre, is no longer the way.
Vaughan can now ‘show the way’ by nobly giving place to ‘other and better ways’, having served its purpose. In the words of the minutes of Senate, ‘in developing the University’s approach to the ongoing challenge of widening participation and encouraging lifelong learning. A statement in the Leicester Mercury on September 10th spoke more specifically about, ”developing opportunities for lifelong learning within our colleges and departments’ and the intention that ‘the University will develop new courses for adults’.
The promise of the good things that are to come also helps to allay any concerns about the apparent loss of provision. As, for example, in the minutes of Senate: ‘It was also noted that widening-participation measures were increasingly embedded within all University departments and the model operated by the Vaughan Centre, whilst having much to commend it, did not represent only or arguably the most effective method of delivering adult education’ (note this is ‘widening participation’ -important – but distinct from Lifelong Learning).
Moreover, the University states, ‘we are confident that none of the proposed changes will impact on our access in improving student access, or our record in delivery with regard to adult and flexible education delivery’
There is a very practical reason why it is important to the University to stress that nothing of particular value is lost from the closure of Vaughan – that a yet more excellent way is opening up. This is less about the promises they have made to the City of Leicester and its leaders and the staff and students of the University and more about the promises they have made to OFFA – the Office for Fair Access. This is the agreement the University needs to have in place in order to be able to charge the maximum undergraduate fee. This has very serious financial implications.
Until recently the 2016/7 OFFA agreement included the University’s assurance that, ‘We invest significantly (note invest not subsidise) in work to reach out to prospective students, and in our Vaughan College of Lifelong Learning who co-ordinate our locally delivered part-time degree programmes’. Tellingly, Vaughan’s work was described as one of the elements of the University ‘enabling a wide range of learners to access Higher Education, for whom this would otherwise not be possible’.
The revised agreement affirms, ‘an unyielding commitment to wider participation in higher education and [and that they] will do everything we can to enable the access and success of any student whose potential would best be developed by our approach to learning’. One might question whether stopping recruitment and closing the Vaughan Centre before there is any visible sign of a practical alternative for those ‘for whom’ access to Higher Education ‘would otherwise not be possible’ is really the best expression of ‘doing everything we can’ to fulfil this ‘unyielding commitment’….
After the proposed closure (and obviously before the University Council makes their decision tomorrow), the paragraph about Vaughan was revised to read, ‘The University offers a wide range of part-time study across a range of departments and centres’. As you will remember, there are lots of ‘courses’, for example, at Attenborough Arts, but in the last year for which figures are available, there were just 91 mature part-time undergraduates outside Vaughan. As this year, because of the suspension of recruitment, there only be the new Highfields Centre students recruited through Vaughan, the figures for mature part-time undergraduates might be rather low.
The University of Leicester’s problems with the retention of mature learners have been described in an earlier blog. The new OFFA agreement also admits the failure to meet recruitment targets for this group, who will become increasingly important as ‘customers’ when the number of 18 year olds falls in a year or two. It also, you will be pleased to hear, sets out a ‘cross-departmental team’ to develop an innovative range of programmes for them and ‘independent research specifically commissioned by the University of Leicester’. This is clearly much more cost-effective than speaking to their own department who have 150 years of experience of dealing with mature learners.
‘We see….’: University of Leicester’s vision of the future
Professor Mark Peel presented the proposed closure of Vaughan as the start of a ‘conversation’.. and it is a ‘conversation’ about different visions of the future..
Let the reader judge what the planned closure of Vaughan says about:
who the University is for;
how it perceives its responsibility to future local adult and part-time learners;
and whether there is any current evidence that it has ‘new ways, maybe even better ways’ of meeting these once the Vaughan Centre is disestablished.
Indeed, whether it is wise or legitimate to ‘disestablish’ the Vaughan Centre and threaten all its work in the vague hope of ‘something better’.
The difficult thing about this is that we also think this is about focus, about the University focussing on the things that a University focus on the things that a University is best able to do. I’m not expecting that people will stand up and cheer about that decision…
But I think one of the things that the people of Leicester would want is
a University that knows what its good at and
a University that knows what its for and who its for.