The critical role of curriculum management in a changing HE landscape

In true HE spirit, the WonkHE Festival of Higher Education opened and concluded with big discussions and even bigger questions. The conference was home to important discussions on the changing HE landscape and the changing needs of universities. 

Amongst all the discussions that were had, student success, higher education regulation and curriculum transformation were some of our highlights. Given that we work with many universities to help them realise their ambitions in these areas, we were intrigued to see how the challenges raised in these discussions would compare. In this blog, we unpack these key themes within the context of curriculum management.


Student success framework – what should it include? 

Student success is, of course, the highest of priorities for higher education institutions, and this was reflected across the two days by festival attendees engaging in numerous conversations about the importance of student support, progression and engagement, and academic achievement as the bedrock of higher ed strategic ambition. 

It's clear that when it comes to delivering on these ambitions, every member of staff within a university has a role to play – whether they are on the frontline teaching students, supporting research, developing curriculum, providing student advising services, recruiting prospective students or otherwise. 

A ‘student success framework’ unites all academic and professional support portfolios under one shared, integrated model of student success. A framework provides the basis for the uplift in investment that a university needs to increase resources and justify budget. 

Of particular interest to us here at CourseLoop is that a student excellence framework, for example, allows those in academic registry to understand how their work can positively impact student success.

Students are impacted by curriculum every single day, as emphasised by the Office for Students. The academic curriculum is the core instrument existing students engage with throughout their learning experience, and, for prospective students, it influences what they choose as their discipline area. Therefore it makes sense that curriculum management – the creation, approval, publication and revision of the curriculum – needs to be held to a certain standard.

When it comes to the technology and processes to support curriculum management, from data capture and management to approval and governance, revision and versioning all the way through to publication and marketing, universities need robustness coupled with agility. At its core, the technology supporting curriculum management needs to enable staff to uphold the quality of the taught curriculum while streamlining business processes and efficiency. Additional advanced capabilities such as publishing of curriculum to a catalogue, mapping of curriculum relationships, and study planning and advising all support a better student experience. 

For that reason, a student success framework must, in some shape or form, include standards for better curriculum management practice. Establishing a framework is an opportunity to review, refresh and consolidate inefficient practices and remove barriers that prevent institutions from achieving consistent, digitally-enabled and frictionless curriculum management. 


Where does curriculum management fit within HE regulation and compliance?

Compliance is a strategic imperative for every higher education institution – but what conditions need to exist to help universities succeed in relation to compliance, and how do we make regulation easier?

This was certainly the focus of a panel discussion at the festival, featuring experts Mike Ratcliffe, Academic Registrar and HE Historian, Andrew Boggs, University Secretary at Royal Holloway University of London, Smita Jamdar, Partner and Head of Education at Shakespeare Martineau, and David Sweeney, Professor of Research Policy at University of Birmingham. During the hour-long lively debate, they divulged their experiences with the HE regulation landscape and what they think might be done to make it work.

Every stakeholder in higher education understands regulation is difficult. Even more so with the withdrawal of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) as the designated quality body in England. 

While we understand that HE regulation can be tricky and continually evolving, solving curriculum governance challenges can help ease these tensions. Purposefully designed and built curriculum governance capability can reduce manual overhead, inefficiencies and the overall cost of compliance. Automating frequently executed tasks, improving the speed of approvals, and maintaining visibility over in-flight curriculum proposals and revisions go a long way to ensuring compliance with academic policy and quality standards.

We recognise that governance meetings can also be complex to schedule, oversee and track. Our experience shows improving visibility and collaboration leads to better governance outcomes. Stakeholders need to be able to schedule future meetings, search and view current and past meetings, with the ability to drill into linked proposals and recorded outcomes. 

Like universities and other education technology partners, we don't have the answer to HE regulatory issues, but we understand the unique role we have to play in addressing the related compliance challenges through the adoption of fit-for-purpose tech.


How can we better support curriculum transformation at scale?

Recent research from WonkHE and Adobe found universities are committed to reviewing and transforming their learning environments and pedagogy to prepare students for a digital-driven future of work. Speakers, Mark Simpson, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching) at Teesside University, and Nuala McLaren, Head of Reader Services and Academic Support at Goldsmiths University of London, spoke to this research in greater detail in their session. 

Participation in higher education will only continue to grow. Universities have a unique opportunity to transform their curriculum to respond to the evolving needs of the next generation of learners. The changes we are seeing are arriving in the form of revised programmes of study with the addition of digital fluencies or new curriculum proposals that authentically integrate real-world, digitally-centred challenges. 

Curriculum design is also becoming increasingly intricate. In some cases, to evidence learning outcomes, students may be assessed repeatedly, more frequently, or not assessed at all. Curriculum mapping and visualisation are therefore crucial in helping university stakeholders break down and demonstrate the relationships between assessments, learning outcomes and programmes.  

But to achieve true curriculum transformation, institutions must first solve their core curriculum management challenges first. An institution’s curriculum management system, whichever solution they chose, must enable them to:

  • Capture accurate and up-to-date curriculum data within a definitive source of truth 
  • Create, approve and govern new proposals quickly, reducing the time-to-market for new courses and programmes
  • Revise and update existing curriculum in an agile and robust manner to tailor programmes to support the requirements of the workforce

Equally as important, curriculum management must be able to support horizontal conversations and collaboration across academic and professional teams to ensure true curriculum transformation.

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