In the fifth and final part of our transcription of the ‘Current Issues in HE’ NAMHE-convened roundtable discussion that took place at the RMA Research Students’ Conference in January at the University of Bangor, the RMA Student Committee and NAMHE-Panelists have helped assemble the question and answer session following the roundtable discussion. While the recording was at times indecipherable, we have endeavored to remain faithful to the original recording as much as possible. Here’s what was said:
Question: Where students are unable to do A’ level in their own school, how feasible is it for them to get around the situation by grouping together and studying for A’ level elsewhere?
Dr Chris Collins: This is already happening – in some areas schools are forming consortia, which enable them to teach A’ level music out of one school. Unfortunately this means that all students have to travel to that school, which works well in some areas but less well in a more thinly-populated area like this. Universities do have a role to play there, even if it’s only a lobbying role to make sure that consortia happen, and if a university can very easily support a college in a city to be doing that, then that’s something we should be thinking hard about doing.
Question: Thank you for a very stimulating session. This is a very brief follow-up to the discussion of interview questions. We need a book of ‘management speak’ – the worst interview question I ever heard about, was ‘how would you contribute to the step-change of the department?’
Professor Rachel Cowgill: It’s something about a dance-routine, isn’t it? Looking at the documents around research policy, particularly around the REF, you will start to get a sense of how managers – and there may well be managers on your interview panel – express some of these ideas. So to avoid yourself getting wrong-footed by some of these jargonistic terms, it is a really good idea just to try to get into that conversation, effectively. That’s a lovely example – it’s very culture-specific.
Question: Is it possible to make the TEF an opportunity to turn back some of the shifts towards consumerism in HE?
Dr Helen Julia Minors: I think it is an interesting question to ask but it’s a difficult one. I think if we consult on what we want the benchmark to be for our discipline, we could try fight back against this issue of a consumer. The problem is largely to do with terminology; when you teach something, the effort and the ownership of learning is with the student. We can only do our best, and I think part of the TEF and the benchmark will need to address the responsibility of the student. I think that if the TEF doesn’t address what the student’s role is, then we’ll be losing a battle that we could never possibly win. I think the culture change needs to engage the student role and their responsibility, and engage them directly in the discussion. So, in some ways, we may need to fight back. I think audit-culture is here to stay and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing, if it’s pushing us to continually be professional, then it doesn’t have to be bad. Of course, I’m trying to be as positive as I can. The fact that it is still open for consultation is a good thing and that we can say something at least is a step in the right direction. However, it means that we constantly have to be vocal and you, the next generation, will need to start thinking about this now. I haven’t got one clear answer but the TEF needs to listen to the students, but tell them that a degree is not going to be easy and that they need to take ownership of it. Nevertheless, the document does make clear that it is a risk-based approach and that failure will be expected somewhere. Thank you.
Question: I’m going to take my research hat off and put my school-teaching hat on. Exam boards are constantly changing the syllabus every three years and teachers are teachers, not researchers […] How much of an influence can universities have in the future on what is taught in school and, to the teachers who don’t have any knowledge, say, about the new forms of ethnomusicological research, how can they be made aware so that they can pass on this knowledge onto their students?
Dr Chris Collins: I can speak to that to some extent. One of our main concerns in being involved with the A’ level to redefine it, and GCSE for that matter, has been to ensure that there’s a very wide range of options available, so that teachers can teach from their own familiar areas. Now the government are very keen to ensure that Western Classical music is core and that everybody teaches that. However, at A’ level for instance, students are required to study three areas, one of which has to be Western Classical music and another two. From an early stage, NAMHE and our sister organisations have been pressing the exam boards to ensure that there is a choice of six or seven areas of study, so that there should be something there that will be good for you to teach. To their credit, all four of the English exam boards have done this.
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