Spotlight on Joint Degrees: Negotiating ‘best practice’ across the University

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In his last post, Chris talked about the organisational lens through which students view their experience of joint degree programmes. In this post, Jackie Barnhart, Student and Academic Services Manager in the School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures, begins to think about the multiple refractions of ‘organisation’ which students may encounter… 

Conversations about joint degree programmes across departments in our own School have yielded some useful, if unsurprising, results. Colleagues perceive that there are inherent problems in our credit structure, student workload, communication and clarity across departments and Schools. Course enrolments, transfer requirements, Quality Assurance reporting, changes to Degree Programme Tables, and many more processes are proving to be disjointed. These comments have served to further support the analysis of our NSS results which Chris discussed last time, and chime with comments from Teaching Programme Reviews and External Examiner reports.

In such a devolved institution, we have necessarily evolved our own versions of ‘best practice’, which can work beautifully in our own corner of the University but which – when viewed by someone studying across two or three Schools and making use of College and Central support services – can seem inefficient and contradictory.

Tackling these organisational issues means looking closely at our academic and professional services structures, and challenging some of the accepted wisdom on how we provide support to students. The traditional subject area-based model of support can make a huge contribution to the sense of community for students, but it can also hamper effective communication and collaboration. At times, this can lead to operational silos, and present seemingly natural barriers which are difficult to overcome.

We are beginning to ask big questions about our curriculum, degree structure, and how best to provide appropriate academic support. But we’re conscious that we also need to find ways to break down these barriers, or to reimagine some of the fundamental mechanisms which underpin course and programme support from the bottom-up.

Asking questions about how to coordinate our individual best practices is an interesting problem, but ultimately pointless in isolation. Answering these questions can only be achieved by working collaboratively across functions, subject areas, Schools, and the wider institution. There is a great deal of work being carried out in this area by the Service Excellence Programme, and so maintaining a sense of awareness of how our project might fit into the context of larger changes is crucial.

To that end, our series of internal conversations will shortly be expanded to include our partner Schools. Discussions with professional services and academic staff within our College have highlighted a good degree of synergy in our aims, these cross-School discussions will therefore take place in cooperation between our College and School. A joint effort, achieved by establishing good working relationships, is key to any progress on joint programmes.

Jackie Barnhart

Jackie Barnhart is the Student and Academic Services Manager for the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, and is one of the Professional Services staff making a contribution to the School’s enhancement project on Joint Degree Programmes.

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