What works? – Professional organisations against the transfer

We were very pleased to receive this open letter to Professor Anne Carlisle earlier this week. Now that Professor Carlisle and the Falmouth University team will have had chance to read and digest the excellent points made we are keen to share it with you.

Association for Learning Development in Higher Education

Dear Professor Carlisle

I am writing on behalf of the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education to express our concern at the decision to transfer approximately 130 academic support staff at Falmouth University to the company Falmouth Exeter Plus. Our key concerns are:

  • that contracting out learning development services will disconnect input pertaining to learning and teaching strategies that support staff will not receive appropriate on-going continual professional development – this will make it difficult to maintain currency with the profession, particularly for new employees
  • that the ability of Falmouth University to recruit and retain high-quality staff will be limited
  • that this approach will disconnect contextualised learning support and
  • that carefully developed links between academic and learning developers will be eroded to the detriment of students.

The decision to effectively ‘contract out’ the provision of learning development services is, we believe, based on a profound misunderstanding of the central role that learning development plays in the broader mission of higher education. Fulfilling this mission requires institutions to adopt an integrated and strategic approach – one in which all staff engaged in facilitating learning (as subject academics, learning developers, course designers etc.) work together, as equal partners, to provide students with an holistic and appropriately supported learning experience. Across the sector, the direction of travel for those working in learning development has, in recent years, been towards ever closer integration with academic and other colleagues, in order to embed learning development practice in mainstream curricula.

As well as being widely supported by a growing body of relevant research literature, this approach also forms a central recommendation of the report, What Works? Student Retention & Success (2012). Produced jointly by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, HEFCE, HEA and Action on Access, What Works? is the most comprehensive recent, sector-wide, investigation into the effectiveness of approaches to supporting students’ transition and progression in higher education (http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/retention-and-success). The report makes it quite clear that: ‘interventions and approaches to improve retention and success should as far as possible be embedded into mainstream provision to ensure all students participate and benefit from them. This will improve the retention of some students and contribute to maximising the success of all students.’ And, furthermore from research undertaken we know, that when this is done in partnership between academic staff and learning development staff it results in very positive learning for the students. This enhances not just their subject knowledge, but deepens students understanding about their own learning.

In addition, the QAA’s recently revised Quality Code (in particular, Chapters B3 and B4) also stresses the importance and value of strategic and practical cohesion between all those responsible for supporting learning.

We value Falmouth as a subscribing institutional member of ALDinHE and therefore wish to work with you towards maintaining the consistently high levels of service your academic support services provide. As a subscribing member we are sure that Falmouth values a coherent and integrated approach to the student learning experience, and we are therefore writing to you to urge that the decision to transfer these services to an external agency be suspended in order for the question to be re-examined. ALDinHE would be happy to assist in giving evidence to any discussion of these issues.

Yours sincerely

Christine Keenan

Chair of the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education

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