The Times – Lead article dated 05.09.16 – written by Greg Hurst, Education Editor
A new university specialising in engineering 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. The remaining credits will be awarded through assessments of project work designed to encourage undergraduates to take risks and, occasionally, to learn from failure.
The university, provisionally called the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMiTE), will be in Hereford. 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.
We think it is pretty disruptive and radical
The university is seeking to take advantage of government reforms to open higher education to new providers. It plans to open in autumn 2018 with a test cohort of 60-70 students, followed by a formal launch in 2019 with 300 undergraduates. Eventually it is expected to take 5,000 students.
Peter Goodhew, emeritus professor of engineering at the University of Liverpool, who designed the curriculum with Kel Fidler, an academic engineer, said: “We think it is pretty disruptive and radical.”
Each three-week block would tackle a challenge relevant to the industry, such as designing an unmanned vehicle to water agricultural land. Conventional academic-led teaching would be restricted to a short course to develop reading, writing and presentational skills. David Sheppard, head of the university’s development team, said: “One of our assessments will be, can they [students] communicate effectively and explain complex things.”
The campus will not have lecture theatres but instead adapt buildings in Hereford the city as seminar rooms, studios and laboratories. Students will combine blocks on engineering topics with applied skills such as finance, economics and project management. It will try to recruit women students and people leaving the armed forces.
Backers are awaiting confirmation of state funding after an announcement last year by George Osborne, when he was chancellor, of support for the launch. In addition to revenue from tuition fees it hopes to attract consultancy fees from businesses in return for students working on industry projects.
Leading Article, Page 27
Engineering Progress - leading article
A new university could teach traditional institutions a lesson
Britain’s first wholly new university in four decades describes itself as a “collaboratory”. In spite of that clunky portmanteau, the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMiTE) is at worst an intriguing experiment and at best an innovative template that traditional universities might learn from.
NMiTE, so named until the Privy Council confers official university status, plans to open with an initial cohort of 300 undergraduates in 2019, eventually expanding its intake to 5,000. On its Hereford campus, budding engineers will be steered away from traditional introductions to the discipline centred on science and mathematics — in fact, applicants will not even be required to have A levels in those subjects. Instead, they will be offered a “liberal engineering” programme centred on “the blessed trinity — creativity, design and innovation — the distilled quintessence of engineering”.
Underpinning the rhetoric are some genuinely radical ideas about teaching. The NMiTE academic year is elongated, lasting 46 weeks, but made up of a sequence of short teaching blocks. The extra time spent studying is designed to maintain educational momentum and offer scope for secondments in industry. In Hereford, a cathedral city without a university at present, NMiTE also hopes that it will quell the typical town versus gown divide.
NMiTE extols “project-based learning”, underpinned by seminars and online self-study. There are unlikely to be many formal examinations, and students will ultimately be assessed by a “portfolio of achievements”. Perhaps most controversially, its solution to the question of how to persuade students to attend lectures is to do away with them entirely.
Crucially, the academic staff responsible for delivering all this will not be required to undertake technical research at the university. That represents a dramatic contrast with most university academics, who sometimes struggle to carry out research while teaching undergraduates. This autumn, the government is expected to set out legislation ranking universities by teaching quality, which will determine how high they can set fees. As a private university, NMiTE will be exempt from this new system, yet it seems nevertheless to have bolder ideas for prioritising undergraduate teaching than its traditional competitors.
Indeed, NMiTE’s creation may offer a timely burst of new ideas for the university sector. Modelling during the summer along the expected lines of the government’s new teaching quality ranking suggested that many august institutions are simply ill-prepared. The highest-placed Russell Group university, Cambridge, was only in twelfth place, with Bristol in 87th and Edinburgh a lowly 89th. Tradition is a good reason to maintain teaching methods but only for as long as they work.
Innovation in higher education was formerly, at least in part, a function performed by poly- technics. Too many of those former polytechnics granted university status after 1992 have lost their distinctiveness and simply become less prestigious traditional universities. As the government rightly re-emphasises the importance of undergraduate teaching at universities, NMiTE may become an incubator of new ideas. Instead of scoffing at its methods, universities old and new should watch closely to see what they can learn.