QAA Annual Conference 2021 – Quality, Resilience, Innovation and Enhancement

The QAA conference was attended by 400 delegates not just from the UK, but also the EU, Canada, Australia and the Ukraine. The conference opened with a debate on the role of the lecture, which had been stimulated by the pandemic forcing universities to reconsider how learning takes place. A number of questions were raised in the debate, starting with the suggestion that lectures were just a conduit to impose learning on students. The purpose of the lecture was questioned in the context of the purpose of the university, which was suggested to be the development of the next generation of global citizens and leaders who can network together to change the world. The lecture was seen in this context as a place to network, learn together, and interact with those from different cultures. This had been facilitated by online learning which had allowed individuals from many different cultures to come together in the learning setting. It was suggested that the lecture has evolved over time and will continue to develop in the future within the right context. As the student member of the panel suggested, the age of stagnation in the lecture is dead, and we need action to move forward and transform like a butterfly into something different.

In a quality update from the QAA there was a presentation on the future of Subject Benchmark Statements where it was noted that in England these are no longer referred to within the 2018 Quality Code, but in Scotland and Wales they are still a reference point. The benchmarks are currently under review, with a three-year cycle to complete the review process. The review is looking to embed inclusivity and sustainability into the subject areas.

A keynote address outlined the vision for universities in India for 2030 and beyond. This presented the ambitious plans for 50% of the population to enter further and higher education, it is only 5% at the moment. All programmes will have an internship to foster experiential learning, and they are developing an Academic Bank of Credits to allow students to select courses from different universities at their own pace to gain their award in a flexible manner to suit their personal circumstances. Students would be allowed to transfer credits from international institutes towards their Bank of Credits.

The main sessions were supplemented by a series of breakout presentations with included themes on trans-national education, micro-credentials, academic integrity, apprenticeships and assessment. Some themes arising from the breakout sessions included:

  • Micro-credentials are becoming one fundamental element in the evolution of education, offering flexibility to learners, but which require a regulatory framework within an international context. Examples were given of an institution wide initiative currently underway at Abertay University to offer micro-credentials that map onto their defined graduate attributes.
  • A session exploring online proctoring discussed the issues around digital assessment security. This noted the difficulties associated with the invigilation of online, off campus assessment and the challenges posed by the technology especially with ensuring equality and diversity. The use of proctoring was questioned by students who argued that they were not being trusted to act with integrity in online assessments.
  • The global perspective on academic integrity was explored with presentations from Australia, Ukraine and Canada. Information about the legislation in Australia on contract cheating was provided, which arose out of the scandal in MSc contract cheating in that country. It was noted that the Ukraine is one of the major sources of essay mills, and there is a serious underlying cultural issue with the attitude towards academic dishonesty among students. It was reported that new legislation was being tabled this month in Ukraine to regulate for integrity. Contract cheating is not tracked in Canada, mainly because it is not identified in policy documents. A policy of restorative practice to resolve academic dishonesty cases in used in some Canadian Universities, to move away from making an instance of dishonesty a catastrophe for the student.
  • Students presented their perspectives on academic integrity, examining the causes of dishonesty, and the assumptions that academics make about the skills and knowledge of those entering programmes. It was emphasised that successful campaigns on integrity need to be student owned and student led. Staff need to be where the students are to reinforce any message on integrity, because the essay mills will be there promoting their services.
  • QAA strategic update on academic integrity notes the importance of a strategic institutional lead for coordinating a consistent approach to integrity. The QAA has prepared an academic integrity charter that has 128 signatories, one of which is the University. They are currently campaigning in the UK to get legislation on contract cheating, which has been introduced elsewhere
A key message from the event would be that universities have shown themselves to be flexible and resilient over the past year, and we should learn from this as we come out of the pandemic and look to our learning and teaching going forward. A message for me would be that we need to help students make better choices when faced with the pressures of studying by providing the right support, and not creating a catastrophe from making the wrong decision.

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