New year, New Directions?

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A look forward to 2014 in the academic workplace

It’s that time of year again: the short break in the academic year (if you aren’t spending your holidays with a pile of marking at your left hand and a half-finished journal article at your right) when we have time to think about what to expect next. As 2014 comes round the bend, here are a few trends that will likely have an impact on your working life in the near future. That impact may be positive, negative, or anywhere in between—we can't predict the future, just prepare for it.

    More students

For UK HE professionals, the big end-of-year news has been the Chancellor’s announcement of a mass increase in student places for 2014, and no cap at all thereafter. Staff involved with admissions will need to keep this in mind straight away, as the first prospects interested in starting courses in 2015 could be in touch at any time in the next 12 months. Universities UK has called the elimination of fines for over-recruiting good news, but questions have been raised about how sustainable such a system will be. Over-recruiting by popular courses can lead to disappointed graduates as supply suddenly exceeds demand; it can also lead to opportunities for adjunct lecturers and other staff when courses expand unpredictably. Many universities will continue to employ internal caps on student numbers, both overall and on a course-by-course basis. You’ll want to part of the conversation about what happens where you work.

    Increased interest in interdisciplinary programmes

This is a “big picture” change that’s been brewing for awhile. Students are learning that narrow degrees can lead to narrow employment opportunities. Programmes that combine topics, including those that involve multiple departments (think environmental studies, sustainable development studies, or medical humanities) offer powerful advantages, including challenging intellectual adventures. If you’re ready to break through boundaries with what you teach, be prepared to counter resistance from staff who find their niches quite cosy, and perhaps some who question the rigour of other disciplines.

    Big changes to FE provision

The urge to charge UK students for vocational and other FE courses seems likely to continue marching along, as does the trend towards entry-level HE courses being delivered in FE settings. There are further concerns in the sector about unregulated growth of private programmes. Whichever side of the FE/HE fence you’re on, you’ll need to keep watch on this one. FE colleagues will also soon need to contend with changes occurring in the secondary sector, ranging from the rise of academies and free schools to proposed GCSE and A-level alterations. For example, the new special educational needs system will include an education, health and care plan that runs until age 25, which FE and HE can be part of.

    Threats to PGCE provision

Another policy-driven story this year will be PGCE provision. Not only will this affect colleagues who currently teach on PGCE or Education programmes—who may find themselves out of work, or working in “training schools” instead of for universities—it will affect university provision of PGCHE programmes that share resources and staff with PGCE provision. Experts have already noted that direct teacher training programmes in schools are failing to hit targets, which may precipitate a teacher shortage in the not-too-distant future. This will have a knock-on effect in FE first, elsewhere later.

    Academic casualisation

There has in recent years been a rise in the number of academics working on short-term, temporary, even zero-hours contracts. This development threatens not only our livelihoods but the student experience: expect it to be a hot topic in the coming year, and for good reason.

    The mighty MOOC?

Many universities are experimenting with MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) delivery models now, and others may soon take the plunge. Although the experience of major US players like MIT has been interesting, sector-watchers warn that students receive little or no support on MOOC courses, and efforts to make money with them have been spotty (and depended almost entirely on casualised staff—see above).

Like every year, it’s all change: and here are some resources to help you get ready:

New Year – New Job or New Perspective? eGuide 

New Year, New Challenges 

Career Building Resolutions

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