“What does success look like?” The vital question for higher education

Nan Bahr, June 1, 2020

The elusive goal for every institution is to be the organisation of choice. That is, it is the organisation that students flock to, where graduands are hunted by employers, where research is world leading, where teaching is research led, and where people love to come to work. And then thrown in for good measure, the community, the industries, and the professions trust in, are dependent on, and seek the leadership for their networks through engagement with the institution. Wow, wouldn’t that be neat! But how do we get there. Well typically, we don’t.

In the higher education sector, we seem to have lost our way. We actively recruit researchers, leaders, teachers, and students, and those who are a mixture of all of these. We tidy up administration, wear away double handling drudgery, and we save money. We chase philanthropists. But we have forgotten to focus on our craft, which has two dependent pillars: the art of teaching; the curiosity for research. I take these in turn.

The art of teaching

Our job in the higher education sector is to teach well, to inspire learners, to create energy and excitement for learning. Excellence in teaching in higher education should be ubiquitous. To teach at University, academics should all be at the very top of their teaching game. They should connect learning, that to be learned, with inspirational pedagogy. This should not be the stuff of a handful of award winners. Excellence should be everywhere. All teachers should be hungry for, and skilled in providing learning and teaching excellence. But the job is not finished with the art of teaching.

The curiosity for research

Our other job is to solve the world’s problems. To develop and apply the skills of research to the things that we need society to benefit from; the arts, the social sciences as much as any field. The drive must be lit by curiosity, not publication counts, or grant funding amounts. It must be as important to research by thinking, as it is to research in any other way. Curiosity is the key.

 So how do we get back on track … well in this time of global crisis we need to return to first principles: what do we as a society need to learn about; how can we support every academic to be an excellent, inspired and inspiring teacher; and, how do we support and demonstrate that we value curiosity. With these goals for success in hand … just then, maybe we will create the conditions for an institution of choice.

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