Shared pedagogic research interests and the sustainability of learning and teaching

Oxford Brookes University has a CETL called the Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Network (HLSTN). In 2007 the CETL published a special edition of its LINK newsletter. It was on small projects completed up to 2006 that had received support from the HLSTN’s pedagogic research fund. I worked with the authors to produce 27 edited summaries for the newsletter.

The projects reflect interests of HLST staff across the country: e-learning, employability, sustainability, assessment and feedback, work-based learning, PDP and key skills, interdisciplinarity, student motivation, internationalisation and cultural values, reflective practice, research methods, student retention, problem-based learning, the first-year student experience, foundation degree delivery, learning styles, widening participation, student performance, academic writing and quality assurance.

Although these projects were all embedded in the HLST sector, I could not help noticing when I re-read them recently that the University of Leicester – and Beyond Distance  in particular – share many of these interests. Some of them are national themes.

Sustainability is a concept with many angles, including green ones, but I’ve just read the report published by HEFCE nearly six months ago about the sustainability of learning and teaching in English higher education.* Its message is that this learning and teaching is unsustainable at current funding levels and with current student numbers. Staffing, buildings and equipment are inadequate now and will become more so. Our international standing and competitiveness are at stake. This finding surprised me, because under Labour education has experienced relative plenty.

In a recession, with a huge national debt, how can financial sustainability be attained? In 2007/08, says the report, the higher education sector delivered efficiencies of at least £202m; figures for 2008/09 are not yet available. Further efficiencies will no doubt be demanded. The sector may lose, not gain, government funding.

I don’t know the answer, except that economies of scale must be found, possibly through increased use of e-learning. But to date e-learning has been seen as an add-on cost. A couple of years ago a paper** made the case for distance learning (not e-learning as such) systems offering substantial savings in carbon emissions over campus systems. That’s another kind of sustainability.


*JM Consulting (2008) The sustainability of learning and teaching in English higher education. A report prepared for the (HEFCE) Financial Sustainability Strategy Group.

**Roy, Robin, Potter, Stephen and Yarrow, Karen (2007) ‘Designing low carbon higher education systems: environmental impacts of campus and distance learning systems’. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9, 2, 116-129.

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