Taken from The Shropshire Star, 7th September 2016
A new university south of the Shropshire border is claiming to break fresh ground with its teaching methods. It intends to abandon lectures and teach students in project teams of no more than 30.
It will abandon the traditional structure of university terms, dividing its course into 13 three-week blocks during which students will be set practical problems to solve in groups.
End-of-term exams will be downgraded to about 20 per cent of credits towards a degree.
Its founders are lobbying ministers to become the first allowed to charge fees of £12,000 a year, arguing that the longer terms will enable it to teach a master’s degree in three years rather than four – including a six-month industry placement.
It will be the UK’s first new “greenfield” university in 40 years when it opens in Hereford in 2019. The university will work closely with business in the region and says it will produce graduates who are well equipped to enter the workplace.
A six-month work placement will also be included in its three-year masters engineering course course, which will have less time for private study than a traditional four-year masters degree.
Peter Goodhew, emeritus professor of engineering at the University of Liverpool, who is now the NMITE’s curriculum adviser, insists the intensity of study will be enough to satisfy engineering’s various professional bodies – which accredit courses – as well as students, employers and quality assurance organisations.
He said: “A significant number of our students will be armed forces leavers or those from the world of work, so they will be used to having just six weeks off a year – it won’t be a shock to the system for them.
“We are also talking with one of the major accrediting bodies, as well as the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering, about our degrees.”
Many potential students interviewed in focus groups cite the accelerated masters degree as a major attraction of the university, which wants to begin recruiting its first cohort in 2018.
“People say you must be dumbing down if you are doing this, but the course will be entirely residential with students living round campus, which makes a big difference to the intensity of the course,” Professor Goodhew said.
Those behind the NMITE are also exploring whether they will be able to charge in excess of the normal annual undergraduate tuition fee – possibly up to £12,000 a year – given the condensed nature of their course.
However, the new higher education bill, debated in Parliament last month, does not appear to allow for this possibility, which would help the institution cope with the high cost of teaching engineering.
The university remains in discussion with the University of Warwick about validation of its degrees.
Other unusual plans on the table include having no degree classifications for students, who would instead present a portfolio of their work to employers.
“What is more impressive to employers – saying ‘I have a first or 2:1’ or showing a portfolio of 13 or 14 things you have actually done?” said Professor Goodhew, who believes that students’ exposure to workplace scenarios will give NMITE’s graduates an edge in the labour market.
The NMITE, which aims to have 1,000 students within three years of opening and 5,000 within 10 to 12 year.
Instead of the normal academic titles and hierarchies found in most universities, staff will simply be called ‘tutor’ – with the institution limiting itself to being ‘teaching only’, a move that should substantially lower its costs.
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