Free stuff for Newcastle University …

Ok, now I’ve hopefully got some attention … (honestly, this post doesn’t take too long to get to the ‘free stuff’ bit).

Perhaps one of less noticed, but still in some ways important, elements of the huge changes in the English higher education sector over the last four years has been the changes for some long-established sector agencies. QAA lost what was in effect its role as the lead national agency in England for academic quality and standards, and has reinvented itself (including a very significant slimming down) as a membership organisation. The Higher Education Academy, Equality Challenge Unit and Leadership Foundation for Higher Education combined forces to become AdvanceHE.

So what?

Good question. One of the things it has meant is that QAA and AdvanceHE have now put huge amounts of their resources behind what amounts to a paywall – if your university’s not a member you’re not getting in. The good news for Newcastle staff is that the University is a signed-up member of both QAA and AdvanceHE, so you can access both organisation’s resources using your Newcastle email address.

So why would you sign up?

Well QAA’s an interesting one. There’s a range of membership services, including both resources (for example some Advice on Digital Assessment Security written by a group that LTDS was a member of) and events (including a webinar in July at which LTDS presented).

The bit that’s interesting is that having become a membership organisation there’s been a bit of a shift in terms of the kind of things the Agency is doing. The five themes of the membership programme for 2021-22 ( ) are: the future of digital and blended learning; creating inclusive learning communities; global engagement and TNE; evaluation and data-based decision making; and securing academic standards.

So a lot of the kind of thing you might expect QAA to do, but quite a lot that might make you think ‘I didn’t’ know QAA were interested in that’. Some of this is open access; other areas you’ll need to register to get access to (but it doesn’t take long – the form is at and all you need is your NU email address).

There are a small number of QAA resources we don’t have access to (it’s like a gym with levels of membership, and we didn’t go for the maximalist option), but there’s still a lot of valuable stuff up there that you can access for free.

(And while I’m talking about QAA, one of its best kept secrets, at least this side of Hadrian’s Wall, is the great work QAA Scotland has been doing for years under its Enhancement Themes banner. There’s lots of interesting and valuable material on this website – The current Enhancement Theme is Resilient Learning Communities, but past themes like Evidence for Enhancement and Student Transitions are well worth a look as well. And again, it’s all free).

It’s a similar deal with AdvanceHE. There’s a huge amount of valuable material available (and their Knowledge Hub database is a good way to access this), across lots of areas -including learning and teaching, but also around EDI as well as leadership and management. AdvanceHE’s programme for 2021-22 is available at .

Again all you need is your NU email address to access the site and its resources. One thing to look out for though is that while there’s a lot of things you can access for free, there’s also quite a bit of AdvanceHE activity (particularly events) that are chargeable. People at NU get a member’s rate, but there’s still a fee for quite a bit of what they’re offering.

So there’s a lot on offer. A lot of it supports areas that we’re strongly committed to as a University and as individuals. It’s worth a look. And (lots of it) is free.

what has the qaa ever done for me?

Over the last three years there have been huge changes in the external framework within which English universities operate. The creation of the Office for Students (OfS) in 2018 has had significant impacts that are still working their way through the sector. One of these was to change the focus and nature of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).

QAA still has a place in the external regulatory framework. It carries out reviews of higher education in England on behalf of OfS. It also supports development of the UK Quality Code (i.e. the things all higher education providers need to do to maintain and enhance educational quality).

The volume of this work for QAA has significantly decreased though over the last two years. In its place QAA has established a membership scheme to (as QAA put it) ‘improve quality and secure standards by giving exclusive access to expert advice, insight and valuable resources based on our extensive expertise’.

Newcastle is a QAA member. This means that we get access to a range of webinars, workshops and resources to help us in our work to give our students an outstanding educational experience while they are studying with us.

There’s an overview at, of what we have access to as QAA members. Not all of it is for everyone, but the opportunities and resources ( cover a wide range of areas – including some you might not normally associate with QAA. To access these all you need is your Newcastle email address.

The State we’re in …

I’ve been at Newcastle for just short of five years now.  And we’re now on the third different national framework for assessing the quality of learning and teaching in English higher education since I came (back) to the University.  Not a particularly cheerful thought – I guess that (unfortunately) it’s that kind of world nowadays …

Until recently the only TLA (Three Letter Acronym) we really needed to know much about in terms of the external regulation of our learning and teaching was QAA.   Things aren’t that straightforward now, and there’s a plethora of new TLAs that form part of the new regulatory framework in England – e.g. OfS (Office for Students), CMA (Competition and Markets Authority), APP (Access and Participation Plan) and of course TEF.

For those colleagues who feel they would like or need to get a sense of how these external regulatory requirements operate, and link with each other, LTDS has published a series of short (i.e. two page) briefing notes.  You can find these on our website at

As in the past no-one is expecting large numbers of colleagues to develop an intimate familiarity with these external requirements.  We’ll continue our approach of, wherever possible, embedding in our own University policies and processes those actions needed to meet external regulatory requirements, so that colleagues can be confident that if they follow Newcastle processes that national external regulatory requirements are being met.  The briefing notes are for those colleagues who would like to know a little more about the wider context, and how we’ve approached this as a University.

Inter-disciplinary Learning and Teaching Conference

The University is currently consulting on a draft of a new Education Strategy (see this blog post for further information on this).  One of the important strands running through the draft Education Strategy is the emphasis on multi- and inter-disciplinary educational opportunities:  encouraging and promoting these opportunities is one of the draft Strategy’s aims.

Colleagues working and/or interested in this area might be interested in a conference that’s taking place at Leeds University next month.  The conference title is Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching:  Pedagogy and Practice.  The programme is available at Initial Programme IDLT 2018, and places on the conference can be booked online.

Education Strategy – consultation Open Forum

Last week we launched a University wide consultation on the draft of a new Education Strategy – further details of the Strategy are in this blog post.

We said then that we would be arranging a number of Forums to give colleagues across the University the opportunity to discuss and give feedback on the current draft.  Each of these Forum meetings will be led by Suzanne Cholerton as PVC – Learning and Teaching, and they will take place between 12:00 and 13:00 on 5, 15 and 22 March 2018.


Draft Education Strategy – consultation launches

Since September 2016 a new University education strategy has been under development to replace the University’s existing Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Strategy (which was approved in 2013).  This work has been led by Suzanne Cholerton, as PVC – Learning and Teaching, and has been carried out on the basis of a significant amount of work and consultation with colleagues across the University – including as part of the development of the new University Strategic Vision.

In December ULTSEC considered a first draft of a new University Education Strategy, and agreed that the Draft Education Strategy should now go out across the University for consultation.  This draft too consultation is therefore available to all members of the University at this link – Draft University Education Strategy, to 2023.

The consultation is open until the end of this term.  As part of this consultation the Draft Education Strategy will be discussed at Faculty Executive Boards, FLTSECs and Faculty Graduate School Committees.

We will also be running three open forums at the Newcastle campus, where colleagues can come to discuss and feedback on the Draft Education Strategy.  And we will run webinar/videoconferencing forums for all three of the University’s branch campuses, so that all members of the University have the opportunity to contribute to the consultation.  Details of these sessions and how to book on them will be published shortly.

We’re also keen to receive feedback directly from schools, subject areas and individual colleagues as well. If you want to pass on your views on the draft, please comment below this blog post or alternatively send any feedback directly via

The consultation closes at the end of 23 March 2018.


The Taught Postgraduate Offer

In 2011 the University developed a statement of the Newcastle Offer.  This set out the range of opportunities that we would make available to all our undergraduate students irrespective of their programme or location of study, and in 2013 the University won the THELMA for outstanding leadership and management team for its work in developing and implementing the Newcastle Offer.

Many of the Newcastle Offer developments benefitted our taught postgraduate programmes and students, as well as our undergraduates (for example ReCap;  ePortoflio;  Reward and Recognition;  a number of assessment and feedback initiatives).   It was still the case, though, that the focus of the Newcastle Offer was largely undergraduate.

The University is now developing a statement of its Taught Postgraduate Offer, focusing on the specific nature and needs of taught postgraduate provision.  A Task and Finish Group chaired by Professor Suzanne Cholerton has recently circulated to Faculties a consultation paper – Consultation paper on the development of the Taught Postgraduate Offer. This includes a draft of a statement of the Taught Postgraduate Offer, why it has been developed and how it might be implemented.

The consultation paper will go to Faculty committees over the next couple of months to get feedback from colleagues across the University, but we’re also keen to receive feedback directly from schools, subject areas and individual colleagues as well. If you want to pass on your views on the draft, please comment below this blog post or alternatively send any feedback directly to me at and the Task and Finish Group will consider what you say along with all the other feedback we get.

The consultation closes on 29 Feb. 2016.

Another present from HEFCE …


Really? Can it really be nearly that time of year again? It comes round so quickly doesn’t it?

No, not Christmas. It’s nearly National Student Survey time again. Shortly after the start of the new calendar year NSS 2016 launches – at Newcastle the Survey will launch on Monday 2 February. Sometimes it can feel as though there are some Groundhog Day elements to the NSS, but this year is different. 2016 will be the last time that NSS runs in its current format as HEFCE are planning a number of significant changes for NSS 2017.

The format of the NSS has remained pretty constant since it was launched in 2005. It surveys final year undergraduates. It uses the same 22 questions, with the addition of a question on Students’ Unions in 2012 being the only change. Such a period of calm, and lack of change, is somewhat unusual in UK higher education – and it’s about to end.

HEFCE have proposed that from NSS 2017:

  • Seven of the existing questions should be dropped from the Survey – including all three on Personal Development and the question on Students’ Unions.
  • Nine new questions should be added – four under the heading Academic Challenge and Integrative Learning; three on The Student Voice; and two on The Learning Community and Collaborative Learning.
  • All three of the existing questions on Learning Resources should be re-worded, as should two of the questions on Assessment and Feedback.

Not quite all change, but if HEFCE goes ahead with these changes the NSS will look very different. I’ve uploaded a mock-up of what the new NSS 2017 would like under the proposals to highlight this, which was compiled by Corony Edwards at Exeter University (and which I’m uploading with Corony’s permission) – NSS 2017 Proposed Questions.

What it means is that NSS would start to take on a different character with a much greater focus on  student engagement issues – both student engagement with their programmes, and student engagement as members of the academic communities in the departments/schools that deliver their programmes.

Of course this isn’t  fixed and agreed yet. HEFCE have been consulting on this (the consultation closed last week), and it will be a while before the final outcome and the actual content of NSS 2017 is announced. But it seems pretty clear that as with most other things relating to learning and teaching and external ‘regulation’ (TEF, quality assessment) we’re about to enter a very different world.