Friday, 27 November 2015

Tour Reflections: Andrew Tuson

In the first of the series of tour reflections, I will look at what is like to participate and why you should consider joining the next one...

As I lead the Poland tour and was fortunate to be able to join in with this one, I would like to look at what it is like from a tour leader and participant viewpoint.

First of all, thanks to Els for doing such an excellent job as tour coordinator. I know how exhasuting it was leading Poland and she lined up a series of outstanding visits.

So what's involved in coordinating/leading the tour? First you need to get a team together from the AUA membership and invite applications. Once you have a team then you decide themes as a group. Though the team may have contacts (and will help) the coordinator will need to set up an iternary of visits, book hotels (as needed) and arrange/plan in-country logistics (usually this means trains and knowing how to get from hotels to HEIs).

There is a lot of materials availabe from past coordinators who are hapy to pass it on (and give advice).

Writing up is hard work, but rewarding. On the Poland tour I was fortunate that the team were excellent note takers. So I able to integrate their detailed notes into a narrative for the report. That said, the AUA does also provide help with production, etc. Of course the team is responsible for the content and analysis.

We are getting started on the Netherlands/Belgium report. I sure it will be every bit as good.

On the other hand, being a participant is still hard work. Apart from the personal logistics, you will take part in the discussions, and of course take notes, engage with research into the themes and contribute to parts of the final report.

You will gain experience of dealing with professionals from different HE systems.  You will make contacts. There is in every visit a 'jaw drop' moment when you find something utterly surprising. If you have not written public reports before, then you will learn a lot during the writing process.

Both roles will provide gains for both you and your employer no matter what stage of your career you are at. So if you really want your preconceptions challenged, meet some really great HE professionals and learn more than you could ever expect in a week - join or lead a AUA study tour.

Just wait for the next call. Or even contact the AUA to volunteer your ideas and services?

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Reflections on the Study Tour: A Prelude

Everyone in the team will be presenting their reflections on the Study Tour. But first here is a fitting prelude by David Law that reflects on the social role of HE...

The last day of the Study Tour was spent at the University of Antwerp.  This was the day that Paris experienced the atrocities that are bound to challenge our willingness to promote cultural inclusiveness in European universities.  Ten days later the peace of Brussels is very much under threat and the cities within its vicinity, including Antwerp and Ghent (where the Davis Cup finals will be held), feel the impact.

At the University of Antwerp there is a compulsory module, World Views, for all third undergraduate students taught by staff of the Centre Pieter Gillis. This Centre is focussed on religious diversity and on the social position of religion in society.  It is named after Pieter Gillis (1486-1533) an Antwerp humanist and friend of Desiderius Erasmus and Thomas More.  Unfortunately, because there was so much to pack in to a half-day visit to the University, we did not have the chance to meet colleagues from the Centre.  But we were told that all the Flemish universities make provision of this kind (for the development of ethical and spiritual awareness of students).

Does any British university require all undergraduates to take such a course, especially at an advanced stage of their degree?

Friday, 20 November 2015

Friday 13th November (Day 4): Antwerp

Friday the 13th is considered by some unlucky, but then were are heading to somewhere that is making me hungry just thinking about it: really good beer, waffles, chocolate and amazing chips - yes!

As you can tell, I put on weight whenever I am here (I cannot speak for the rest of the team!)...

Anyway, after a 2 hour train journey we are in the capital of the Flanders province of Belgium, Antwerp. It is renowned for being the world's leading diamond city where over 70% of all diamonds are traded.

The University of Antwerp (Universiteit Antwerpen) was established in 2003, following the merger of the RUCA, UFSIA and UIA institutes, whose roots go back to 1852. As of 2014, the University of Antwerp ranks as 170th globally according to Times Higher Education, 205th according to the QS World University Rankings and in the 301-400th place range according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

We are met at the station and driven to one of their outer campuses where much of the adminstration is based. The University was formed by merger, so has a presence on multiple sites.

We then enjoyed and debated a number of excellent presentations on employabilty, internationalisation and research management. Like in the Netherlands, the system here manages to maintain a high consistent standard across its universities.

It became clear, despite a common language, that there are significant policy differences. Again both systems often approach issues in a different way to the UK. The ability to triangulate in this manner has made this study tour quite unique.

In the evening, the University was kind enough to to take us to the University Club where we had a fantastic meal that ended with University branded Belgian chocolates.

So all in all a fitting end to a great study tour.

As always, three observations of the day's conversations.
  • As in the Netherlands, Internationalisation is a strategic activity; though there are some constraints, e.g. limits on what courses can be offered in English, esp. at Bachelors level.
  • The research universities have in place reasonably mature employabilty practices as it appears does the vocational/applied HE sector (Belgium has a binary system).
  • Research funding has both competitive aspects as well as an allocative compnnet based on simple metrics.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Thursday 12th November (Day 3): Delft

Warning: this blogpost was written by a STEM person, expect some geeking out...

Day three and the intercity train was only 20 minutes - we are now in Delft, known for its historic town centre with canals, Delft Blue pottery, the Delft University of Technology, painter Johannes Vermeer and scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek.

It is of course the university we are here for...

The Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), is the largest and oldest Dutch public technical university established in 1842 as a Royal Academy to train civil servants for the Dutch East Indies. The school rapidly expanded its research and education activity, becoming first a Polytechnic School in 1864, Institute of Technology in 1905, gaining full university rights, and finally changing its name to Delft University of Technology in 1986. TU Delft boasts connections with Dutch Nobel laureates Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff, Heike Kamerlingh Onnes and Simon van der Meer.

This was a whole day visit. We started with a number of meetings with staff who worked in the areas of the themes of the tour. After an excellent lunch we started to move around the campus and its facilities, including an absolutely fabulous library building.

Librarian AUA members - wish you were here!

After that we visited the 'D:Dream' building where student teams in their own time build cars, boats, robots and enter them in competitions. They do very well and had lots of impressive machines to show us...

The students get some support and a building from the university but have to raise most of the money from external sponsors. As I was a massive geek I loved it. The other tour members were also impressed.

We then went for a meeting with a member of the senior management team. Afterwards we had the pleasure of visiting TU Delft's startup hub: a purpüose built building to encourage commercialisation, both for current students, but especially for their alumni.

We came into contact with a lot of students today. All were a credit to the university.

As before, here are the three most interesting findings of the day...
  • Dutch universities have in play significant programmes to promote start ups and student entreprenurship
  • The professional tier of their HE system (Hogschul/Universities of Applied Technology) engages in signficant industrial placement activities.
  • Internationalisation though concentrated in masters programmes is picking up pace with some impressive recent recruitment growth.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Wednesday 11th November (Day 2): Amsterdam

Onto Day 2. Breakfast then we take advantge of the geographical proximity and great trains between Dutch cities. In little over half an hour we are in Amsterdam to visit two universties.

The first HEI visited has a literal translation of the Dutch name Vrije Universiteit of "Free University". "Free" refers to independence of both state and church. Both within and outside the University, the institution is commonly referred to as "the VU" (pronounced somewhat like "vew" as in "new"). In English, therefore, the university uses the name "VU University". Though founded in 1880 as a private institution, VU has received government funding on a parity basis with public universities since 1970. Abraham Kuyper, Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905, founded VU University Amsterdam. At first the university was only open to Reformed Christians and was entirely financed by their fund-raising efforts and donations. Since the 1960s, however, VU University Amsterdam has been open to everyone and funded in the same way as the other Dutch universities, although it still retains its tradition of Christian standards and values.

We had a most enjoyable moring there in a building that was reminisent of the Barbican building, followed by lunch and the usual transport problems with tram stations that will not sell tourists tickets...

The afternonn was spent in the University of Amsterdam (UvA) has a rich history dating back to 1632, when its forerunner, the Golden Age school Athenaeum Illustre, was established. In 1815, the Athenaeum Illustre was recognised by law as an institution of higher education and, in 1876, granted the right to confer doctoral degrees and given its current name, the University of Amsterdam. The UvA operated under the executive authority of the City of Amsterdam until 1961, at which time it became an independent public entity. Today, with some 30,000 students, 5,000 staff, more than 100 nationalities and a budget of more than 600 million euros, it is one of the largest comprehensive universities in Europe.

We enjoyed again some great and detailed presentations and discsssions on the themes. The universities so far have prepared very well indeed!

There were some very well designed buildings on their outer campus that we had the pleasure of being shown round. The library was commendably busy even at 6pm!

The three interesting findings from today's visits were:
  • There is a binary system in the Netherlands with academic universities and professional Hogschule (in English 'Universities of Applied Technology')
  • There seems to be a large number of Germans in Dutch HE (the largest sources of non-Dutch students being the US, German, China and the UK).
  • There is a structured series of personal research grants from the Dutch research council, called vini, vidi, vici. Classicists may draw a wry smile at that...

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Tuesday 10th November (Day 1): Leiden

The team arrived in Leiden. I presume like me by flying into AMS and taking a train. The city is known as the birthplace of Rembrandt, for its beautiful, old city centre and a large population of students.

We got to the hotel safe and sound, put our bags in safe keeping and heading out to the first HEI on our visit: Leiden University.

Leiden University (abbreviated as LEI, Dutch: Universiteit Leiden) is the oldest university in the Netherlands, founded in 1575 by William, Prince of Orange. It came into prominence during the Dutch Golden Age, when scholars from around Europe were attracted there due to its climate of intellectual tolerance and international reputation. Leiden was home to such figures as René Descartes, Rembrandt, Hugo Grotius, Baruch Spinoza and Baron d'Holbach. It is now a prestigious public research university.
  • In 2013 Leiden was the highest ranked university in the Netherlands in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, where it was rated as the 64th best university worldwide and 61st for international reputation.
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University's 2011 ranked Leiden University as the 65th best university worldwide.
  • Times Higher Education Rankings consistently ranks it as the best university in Continental Europe for Arts and Humanities. 
The University is associated with ten leaders and Prime Ministers of the Netherlands including the current Prime Minister Mark Rutte, nine foreign leaders, among them the 6th President of the United States John Quincy Adams, a Secretary General of NATO, a President of the International Court of Justice and sixteen recipients of the Nobel Prize (including renowned physicists Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi).

We received presentation on each of the three themes as well as an overview of the university and its strategy. Leiden clearly sees itself  as an international university..

We also saw their 'Sweat Room' where students sat (and wrote their names on the wall) while waiting for their results. This autograph tradition also extends to honorary degree holders such as Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill.

We also enjoyed on our tour their lovely Senate Room.

At the end of each day, we share three points that struck us most today about todays visit:
  • Dutch PhD positions cannot not funded by studentships but rather by employment contracts (and the PhD candidates appear eager to keep it that way).
  • There is a great story to be told about how Leiden is responding to student feedback on enhancing employability for its students.
  • Though there are national subject reviews of research with external experts, they do not affect formula funding (though universities do act upon their findings). From a UK REF tradition, and the strong research reputation of Dutch universities, this may be surprising to many.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Why I Joined: Andrew Tuson

Hey, doesn't he seem somewhat familiar....?

Yep, busted. I was the coordinator of the previous AUA Study Tour to Poland (report out now - plug, plug). So in the interests of full disclosure here is the post I did for the last tour.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was having a coffee with Els handing over from one coordinator to another. As I was off contract at the time, I mentioned that if (and only if) there was a spare space that I would be happy to join in at my own expense. Els and the AUA said yes, so here I am...

The rest was history. I am paying for my supper by looking after the blog.

That said it is going to be quite a interesting tour especially as Western European HE systems have increasingly been offering degrees in English to compete in the international student market.

Anyway, I have a plane to catch!

Study Tour on the Web: The First of (Hopefully) Many....

Many thanks to the University of Aberdeen's Health Services Research Unit's for their coverage of Marion Malcolm's participation on the study tour,

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Why I Joined: Ruth Coomber

Contining our team introductions, over to you Ruth....

Hello, I’m Ruth Coomber and am a Research Institute Manager within the School of Medicine in Cardiff University.  I have worked in the higher education sector for seventeen years across a number of research administrative and management roles.  

I have been a member of the AUA since 2013 and just completed the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education, Administration, Management and Leadership programme.  Following this, I will be enrolling onto the PgDip commencing in November 2015. 

I welcome this opportunity to participate in the 2015 AUA Study Tour to the Netherlands and Belgium which I consider will provide a great learning experience for me to broaden my knowledge of the international higher education sector.

Why I Joined: John Baker

At an AUA London Region event at UCL in 2009, I was inspired by members of the Study Tour group who reported back on the insights gained from their trip to India, and thought about the benefits of participation each time a call for applicants had been circulated.  But previously either existing personal commitments or work priorities had provided obstacles.
So I was delighted to be able to apply and then selected to be a part of the 2015 Study Tour to Belgium & the Netherlands.

As the pace of change in HE seems to quicken, and the pressures on administrative staff grow, I think the insight and awareness that can be generated from real life connection and appreciation through schemes like this can be invaluable.

My participation in AUA activity enables me to stay in touch with a diverse range of institutions and people in different role functions across the UK, but I am delighted to be able to participate in this tour and to be able to develop an appreciation for a range of Higher Education institutions, and their priorities, elsewhere within Europe.

My recent experience with MOOCs run by institutions in Europe and beyond has expanded my vision when it comes to expertise and practise elsewhere, and I think sometimes institutions can be happier to share the truth and benefit of their experiences with organisations with whom they feel less directly in competition.

My role as Corporate & Business Planning Manager at London South Bank University requires me to interact with all parts of the institution, and liaise directly with colleagues at all levels, and I am confident this experience will enable me to engage effectively with representatives from the institutions hosting our tour in Leiden, Delft, Amsterdam and Antwerp. 

I look forward to tweeting throughout my participation of the tour, and sharing insights and experiences gained on this blog.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Preview of Tour Theme 3: Managing Student Employability

In the Netherlands and Belgium, as developed first world economies and HE systems, the skills and employabilty of graduates is of interest to govemments wishing to support their economies, and students looking for the best outcomes of their studies.
This theme is being led by John Baker and Andrew Tuson. The questions we would like to explore on the study tour are:
  1. Do you have institutional approaches to ensuring graduates are work-ready, or equipped for the contemporary workplace? 
  2. How do you involve external organisations in student employability initiatives, and other partnership activity?
  3. To what degree are placements an integral part of learning programmes within your institution, and are there barriers to participation?
  4. Are there other forms or models of student work experience?
  5. How do you measure the engagement and success of careers services and employability and initiatives with your students? Do you have strategies to prepare students for the international job market?
  6. How is the employability agenda embedded within existing assurance cycles and management reviews?
  7. Do students of different backgrounds present particular employability challenges (e.g. non EU, low socio-economic groups), and how do you tackle these if so?
As always, comments and poniters to resources are always welcome.