From the Scholarship Project to the Scholarship Framework, by John Lea

From the Scholarship Project to the Scholarship Framework

John Lea

The Scholarship Project is about to come to its natural end.  It was a five-year HEFCE (now Office for Students) catalyst-funded project, the main aim of which was promote a step-change in the enhancement of scholarship in College HE. The main task for the first three years was to develop what became 50 resources to be adopted or adapted by any FE college in England with HE provision – all aimed at enhancing scholarship policies and practices.  In May 2018 those resources were placed in a scholarship framework, under themed headings. Colleges were then asked to register if they wished to use the resources.  This was in order to monitor the meeting of a key target for the project: that 100 colleges will have registered by the time the project concluded.  Despite all the upheavals of mergers over the last five years, it is pleasing to report that 122 colleges to date have registered to use the resources (out of a total of 167 colleges registered with the OfS).

The project has been successful in a number of other ways. We have been able to hold six national conferences, enabling practitioners from around the college HE world to present their on-going scholarship work, and to network with each other. These conferences provided the context for some colleagues to go public for the first time on aspects of their work. The project also provided an opportunity for practitioners to showcase their curriculum development work in a series of case studies.  We were able to publish 69 of these – some of them now archived on the original project website, and some on the framework website.  A particularly successful initiative has been the publication of think pieces. We started with our first one in June 2015, and we finish in May 2020 with this one: number 81. The think pieces have covered a huge range of topics, written by a range of people, some of whom were college HE students.  All of the think pieces are still available to be read, either archived on the original project website or on the framework website.

The 50 resources in the scholarship framework were placed under four main themes: professional development; quality enhancement; student engagement; and curriculum development. A key resource (under quality enhancement) was `How to develop a scholarship policy’. It is vital that colleges develop strategies for ensuring that scholarship is fully integrated into their policies and practices, and that it is targeted, monitored, evaluated, and rewarded.  In this context it is really pleasing to be able to report that of the 13 FE colleges who currently hold Teaching Excellence Framework Gold Awards, eight were colleges directly involved in the scholarship project. Most of these colleges were able to clearly articulate how they were integrating scholarship policies into their teaching and learning enhancement regimes.

It is also pleasing to be able to report that many colleges are seeking new ways to provide professional development opportunities for their HE staff.  Sometimes this has been through dedicated professional development days and successful HE conferences.  In other instances, staff have been provided with opportunities to engage with the UK professional standards framework (see previous think piece by Dan Amin) and to apply for fellowship status.  The framework has a number of resources (under professional development) to aid all of this work. Under the heading of student engagement, it is extremely pleasing to be able to report that many colleges have been very successful in incorporating opportunities for undergraduate students to undertake their own research and scholarship, and the framework also has a number of dedicated resources to help colleges embed a scholarly ethos for students.

More work is probably required for some colleges in the area of employer engagement.  It is clear that many colleges have strong links with local employers, and this should certainly be applauded. But the project was able to find few examples where employers and colleges were working in partnership on the curriculum – particularly in making the teaching and learning regime a scholarly endeavour.  There are many opportunities for enhancement here, for example, providing students with more problem-solving tasks where they could use research tools to find solutions to current commercial and/or community problems. There is also a growing literature base exploring the question of knowledge recontextualization in professional and technical learning contexts and asking whether there is a distinct higher vocational pedagogy.  Some of the resources under curriculum development address these issues, with advice and suggestions. The project team hopes that practitioners will recognise the call to arms here and continue to explore and research this area of college HE provision.

Some elephants still remain in the room.  Crowded timetables often leave little or no time for scholarship, and College HE staff regularly express their concerns about this. The mismatch between FE and HE cultures - which is not unrelated to time – is also regularly commented on.  From the start of the project it was clear that making any significant inroads into these issues was going to be difficult.  But it is not all bad news.  Some colleges have been able to put their HE staff onto separate contracts, which take on board the different context for HE teaching and learning.  Some colleges have been exploring how a more learner-centred/flipped classroom curriculum can create the space for staff and students to work collaboratively in more scholarly ways. And some colleges have been successful in keeping scholarship closely aligned with college mission statements; notably around enhancing the teaching and learning regime, and aspects of community engagement.  The work of Ernest Boyer on the four scholarships has been particularly useful here, and his work underpinned the scholarship project (Boyer, 1990; 1996).

The scholarship project now ends, but the framework continues. From June 2020 the permanent home for the scholarship framework will be The Education and Training Foundation (ETF).  From this date there will be no need for colleges to continue to register to gain access to the resources, and all colleges (not just those in England) will be able to access it. Discussions are also underway to look at how the framework might be integrated with other ETF professional development resources, particularly those relating to college management and leadership.  In addition, the forum part of the framework will be subsumed under the new `Connect’ electronic platform run by Advance HE.  All college HE practitioners will have open access to this forum if they work in an Advance HE subscribing institution.

It was an honour to lead the scholarship project through to its end and I hope to be able to continue to support some of the on-going work aimed at enhancing the role of college HE in the wider HE landscape.

John Lea was the scholarship project research director from May 2015 until May 2020.

If you have a question about accessing the scholarship framework and its resources or any other question about the scholarship project, please email: scholarship@aoc.co.uk

References

Boyer, E.L. (1990) Scholarship Reconsidered: priorities for the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Boyer, E.L. (1996) The scholarship of engagement, Journal of Public Outreach, 1(1), 11-20.