October 2013

28 October 2013 | IT Supporting the College Strategy

Information technology is an integral part of any organisation, from data management to collaborative working.  Our IT operations are no different and a range of innovative projects are underway at Royal Holloway, supporting all aspects of student and academic life.

This term, more students than ever have connected to the internet through mobile devices, with iPhones and iPads making up over 5,500 of the 7,400 users registered.   With mobile devices so popular, we’re prioritising improved mobile access to our website, and expect our new mobile site to be live in the next few months.

Increased student applications and improved rates of conversion depend on better relationship management tools as well as streamlined support for application processing through live, accurate management information, both also priority projects for the IT team in the coming year.

With demand on the Wi-Fi network doubling in the last three years, an average of 2 devices per user on campus and 92% of devices being wireless, we must keep investing in our infrastructure. The way in which we work is changing with the introduction of tools such as Lync and Yammer. Next on stream will be SharePoint, which will bring even greater flexibility and more effective sharing of electronic resources in early 2014.

We hope that being open to technological innovations will bring us closer to realising our vision for Royal Holloway, faster.  You can find out more about the range of projects currently being undertaken by IT services here.

And finally, you may have seen in the media last week that our universities minister, David Willetts, marked the 50th anniversary of the Robbins Report (which lead to rapid expansion of the university sector in the 1960s) by asserting that universities will have to expand by around 25% by 2023, as the population grows. 

This is a welcome comment from a government that caps the number of Home/EU undergraduate students we can admit; however it is still ten years hence before the number of 18 year olds will start to grow again. In the meantime, we cannot rely on population growth to fill our places and must continue all of our hard work to recruit good quality students, and give them the best possible education and experience when here, supported by innovative and cutting edge IT services.

21 October 2013 | A Level Reform Comment Piece

In 2010, shortly after the general election, the Government White Paper The Importance of Teaching set out the policy intention that ‘universities and learned bodies should be involved in the future development of A levels and that resit rules would be changed to prevent A level students resitting a large number of units’ [Ofqual]. In 2012, Ofqual launched a consultation on A level reform, involving a range of stakeholders including parents, students, schools, colleges, higher education and employers.

That consultation and resulting discussion between Ofqual and the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, have resulted in a set of reforms to the structure and content of the A level qualification. The key reforms are:
  • A levels will be linear, with more synoptic assessment at the end of the two years of the qualification
  • No January assessment period, in order to limit resits
  • Decoupling of AS level from A level so that AS levels are a standalone qualification; performance in an AS will not count towards an A level

It is proposed that these reforms will be implemented in the majority of A level subjects for first teaching from September 2015, with GCSE reforms timetabled to coincide with delivery of the revised A level qualification.

A level reform has a number of important effects for HE institutions.

First, an ‘A Level Content Advisory Board’ has been established by leading higher education institutions to consider the subject content in the subjects proposed for reform by 2015; HE institutions will also play a leading role in annual post-A level review. Universities will thus have greater involvement in setting the curricula for A levels. Already, many Royal Holloway academics have engaged with exam boards including AQA and EdExcel to help develop revised curricula.

Second, owing to the decoupling of AS levels, it is likely that this qualification will decline, potentially leading to a decline in the number of non-traditional subjects studied at this level as well. Further, the narrowing focus on A level results as part of the admissions process to university may overlook other skills that are developed during this education phase. We would like to see other qualifications given adequate recognition in the admissions process to reflect the diversity of backgrounds from which students come to university. BTEC qualifications, for example, are increasingly the only qualification available in some further education colleges; BTECs emphasise education and employment experience throughout the period of study and are thus a counterpoint to the linear progression that is being implemented in A levels.

Third, the reforms open up the issue of transition from school or college to university, and what universities should be doing to ensure that students are adequately equipped to study at degree-level – regardless of their qualification background. The Vice-Principal for Education, along with the Associate Deans for Teaching and Learning and the Educational Development Unit, are leading on helping staff to understand these changes. They are also reviewing teaching and learning methods across all of our programmes and exploring new methods of assessment, to ensure that our students are equipped with the knowledge and skills for success in a competitive, global workplace. Our overarching goal is to deliver an excellent, personalised education that is sensitive to the differing backgrounds of our students, which can sometimes be masked by focusing on A level grades as an indicator of academic potential.

We look forward to playing a leading role in the development of new curricula for A levels and broadly support the measures to enhance the reputation of this qualification; however, we must also remain open to the value added by pursuing alternative qualifications, and the range of experiences that students bring when they embark upon university education.

14 October 2013 | AHRC Doctoral Funding Success

Research is a core theme in the College strategy, with the aim being to develop a vibrant environment in which our staff have the appropriate facilities and support to generate exciting and world-changing research.

2012/2013 saw a record number of research grant awards totalling over £22 million, a 45% increase on the previous year. We look set to continue that trend in the new academic year with nearly £6 million awarded in August and September 2013 alone.

This success has been across our three faculties, with individual grants ranging from £400,000 to over £1.3 million, as well as many smaller grants. Every grant holder should be proud of their achievements in a very competitive funding environment.

I am also pleased to announce that a consortium led by Royal Holloway has today been awarded a grant of £13.5 million by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The grant will fund approximately 176 postgraduate students, addressing the national need for highly skilled researchers in disciplines across the arts and humanities. The new Doctoral Training Partnership brings together seven universities across London and the South East, enabling students to benefit from diverse training opportunities and expertise from all members.

Finally, whilst we know we have strong research, it is the judgment of our peers that confirms this to the wider world. This process of research review, known as the REF (Research Excellence Framework) is well underway, as we put the finishing touches to our submission to the REF panels making the judgment. The textual part of the submission, which includes statements on our research environment and impact of our research, will be finalised by 21 October. The final submission, including additional data and evidence, will be made by 8 November.

The REF process represents a significant contribution from staff across the College, including individual academics, REF leads, Faculty Managers and the Research and Enterprise team. I would like to thank everyone that has been involved in this process, the individuals who have been successful in securing research grants so far this year, and the team who led on the successful AHRC DTP submission.

7 October 2013 | Royal Holloway ranked 102 in the THE World University Rankings

This week, we are celebrating our success in climbing 17 places from 119th to 102nd in the world in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2013/14. This rise puts the College 12th in the UK and 36th in Europe. We are also ranked 1st for international outlook, and we broke into the top 100 within the subject category ‘Physical Sciences’ at 73rd.

While other UK universities have seen their ranking fall this year, Royal Holloway showed continued success in key performance measures such as citations and international outlook, as well as improved scores for industry income and teaching. You can read a full briefing from the Strategic Development Unit.

The THE World University Ranking is just one of the league tables used by prospective students, industry, government and funding bodies. Their methodology differs from that used by domestic league tables such as the Guardian or Times University Guides. Performance is measured across teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook with teaching, research and citations accounting for 30 per cent each of the total score.

Domestic league tables tend to give a higher weighting to Student Experience, highlighting the continued need to improve our National Student Survey scores. Graduate employability is also a key indicator in other league tables, based on information given by graduates six months after graduating.

I would like to thank all of the staff who have contributed toward this significant gain, which reflects the high quality of our teaching and research, and confirms our position as one of the world’s best universities. We should now build on our achievement in the THE World University Ranking by strengthening our performance in these other key indicators as well.
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