Universities share similarities and best practice

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Neil Simco, Dean of Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business


As part of the 2011 Universities Week, running from 13 - 19 June, two universities are proving that it is not only students who can learn some lessons.

Two of the UK’s newest universities, both facing similar challenges, are using their experiences to learn from each other and share best practice.

Representatives from the University of Cumbria (UoC) in North West England, and the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) in Northern Scotland are taking part in a joint learning experience, visiting each campus to look at the use of resources and the student learning experience across dispersed sites.

In a joint statement, Dr Neil Simco, UHI Dean of Arts, Humanities and Business, and UoC Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Liz Beaty said that senior staff from both institutions are aiming to understand the nature, characteristics, challenges and opportunities of the opposite institution.

They added: “We hope that this will provide fresh insight for both universities. We will discuss national policy issues affecting higher education in rural distributed areas; explore governance and management arrangements across distributed partnerships as well as share learning and teaching perspectives”.

The University of Cumbria, which formed in 2007 from the amalgamation of the former St. Martin’s colleges, Cumbria Institute of the Arts and UCLan sites, was based loosely around the UHI dispersed campus model, with Cumbria having campuses in Carlisle, Penrith and Lancaster, and learning gateways in Ambleside, Workington, Barrow-in-Furness and London.

The University of Highlands and Islands covers an area twice the size of Wales and is a partnership of 13 colleges and research centres spread across the region. UHI was awarded taught degree awarding powers in 2008 and was awarded university status in 2011, making it Scotland’s newest university.

Both universities are distinctive and innovative, and as well as having geographical similarities, have a number of common characteristics including:

•  A mission and vision which focuses on delivering tertiary education to remote and rural areas

•  A clear focus on raising aspiration and widening participation in higher education within regions

•  New institutions developing their identity at a time of austerity

•  A commitment to delivering higher education through innovative learning approaches to enable access within local communities.

Both Cumbria and UHI also cater for a high number of adult learners and distance learning students, with a significantly higher number of part time mature students than typical UK universities, most of which have high numbers of full time undergraduates who start university straight from school.

The University of Cumbria’s Professor Liz Beaty has been working closely with Dr Simco, formerly Cumbria’s Interim Pro-vice Chancellor and Dean of Education and Dean for Research,  to look at how each university deals with running a high number of rural sites and how resources are shared and best used across the institution.

Professor Liz Beaty said: “I visited Inverness in February with colleagues and our key objective was to see how UHI manages its dispersed sites and to look at how they run their enterprise and academic functions. We were able to visit a number of the UHI sites across Northern Scotland and it was interesting to see how learning technology supports services such as the library and student support over so many rural sites. We are looking forward to the return visit and to showing UHI colleagues our partnership developments across Cumbria”.

Dr Simco and colleagues will be visiting the University of Cumbria from June 15 -17.  “We are really looking forward to visiting Cumbria. We are passionate about the role of higher education in remote and rural communities, and our growing relationship with Cumbria will provide an exciting opportunity to exchange ideas with a similar university.”

For more information about UHI or the University of Cumbria, visit: www.uhi.ac.uk or www.cumbria.ac.uk