UNIQUe: University of Leicester wins accreditation for e-learning quality

‘Good things come to those who wait’ was the strap-line from the series of TV ads for Guinness. Among others, it featured the Swimmer, the Surfer, the Tipping Point and the march of noitulovE (that’s ‘evolution’ spelt backwards).  Though Irish stout is not my preferred beverage, my thoughts did turn to this old adage several times while waiting for the ‘official’ communiqué confirming the University of Leicester’s UNIQUe accreditation to arrive.

It started in October 2007 and finally, in May 2009, the University has been awarded the UNIQUe ‘e-Learning quality label’ for 2009-2012 by the European Foundation for Quality in E-Learning (EFQUEL). It is the first, and to date only, university in the UK to receive the award; other European institutions awarded the accreditation include the Università di Macerata (Italy), the Universidad de Granada (Spain) and the TKK Dipoli Institute at the Helsinki University of Technology (Finland).

According to the letter received from EFQUEL, the assessment board of the awarding body was ‘unanimous in its decision to grant a full three year certification to the University of Leicester’. The letter adds that, having obtained the UNIQUe certification, Leicester now belongs to a select group of ‘leading institutions in the field of Higher Education e-learning in Europe’.

UNIQUe stands for ‘European University Quality in eLearning’. It is the first European institutional accreditation for universities’ activities in the field of e-learning and ICT usage for teaching and learning, and aimed at enhancing the reform process of European HEIs by creating, testing and launching an eLearning quality label for ICT use in higher education. The project was executed by EFMD , the MENON Network, EFQUEL and EuroPACE with sponsorship from the EU’s Socrates (presently, ‘Lifelong Learning’) Programme. 

UNIQUe focuses on enabling higher education institutions to measure how successful they are in technology-enhanced learning, and allows for continuous improvement though peer collaboration and ‘benchlearning’. It also aims to facilitate the improvement of higher education e-learning-related processes and management.

The University of Leicester’s participation in the UNIQUe accreditation project was led by Christine Fyfe (PVC, Students) and Prof Gilly Salmon (Beyond Distance Research Alliance). Grateful thanks are due to the several colleagues from across the University for their editorial inputs and their time.

Initial feedback from the Peer Review Team’s visit in July 2008 – as part of which they met the University’s senior management, academics, IT support services staff and students – was highly positive. It highlighted that: ‘the University of Leicester has great strengths in all areas: there is a well-developed process for strategy formulation regarding e-learning, which is regularly reviewed. The strategy includes attracting staff to the use of technology-enhanced learning through the development of research projects undertaken by the BDRA in particular, with the strong support of the governing bodies, senior management and other departments.’

All colleagues involved in e-learning and learning technology research, development and innovation throughout the university can be delighted that their efforts have been recognised, not only across our university and by their students, but also in the demanding and competitive, external HE world. The implications of receiving the award are the underpinning of the new Learning Innovation strategy for the University (now in its final stages), a higher profile throughout the HE sector in the EU, the enhancement of the University’s ability to apply for EU funding and the attraction of EU students.

All ‘good things’ indeed, but, to paraphrase a football manager facing relegation, achieving these ‘is in our own hands’. And instead of waiting, we need to start taking steps to ensure these ‘good things’ really happen.

Jai Mukherjee / 20 May 2009

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