Croeso! Which Google Translate reliably informs me means ‘Welcome’ in Welsh. I’m in Cardiff, FYI, so this is not as random as it seems. I’ve spent the last couple of days down here in Wales working with colleagues at the University of South Wales. Last year, Dr Stewart Eyres (Deputy Dean of Computing, Engineering & Science) reached out to the Teaching Excellence Alliance Peer Review College for some support with their work to develop their Foundation Years. Since I was just coming out of my own FY project at the time, I thought it’d be cathartic, sorry, helpful and supportive, to offer to contribute.
I’ve also not been to Cardiff for years and years so thought it’d be interesting to head back. I also love a good castle, so I made sure I could nip over to check it out after work on Tuesday. I really need a castle. After their successes in our engineering building, maybe I could task our design students to sort it out. It’d be awesome. I reckon I’d be a beneficent king. No, not beneficent – vengeful. That’s it…
Anyway… I’m also really nosy and I love checking out other universities. The University of South Wales is actually a relatively new establishment, and one that was constructed through the merger of other institutions. As such, it has campuses dotted about all over the place. I was based at the site in Trefforest, a short train ride outside of Cardiff. The campus here is split by a river and is positioned on either side of the valley. It made me realise that maybe, just maybe, I’m being overly dramatic when I complain about having to walk from one side of the pathway to the other to visit a different building at work…
The main purpose of the event was the share our experiences of redeveloping Foundation Year provision. While I maintain that academia is, on the whole, pretty collegiate, we’re not great at sharing good practice between ourselves. Maybe this is a function of the forced marketisation of the sector, but the reality is that many of our institutions have similar challenges. Certainly Teesside and USW do – particularly with regard to the effective support of students from poorer post-industrial regions of the country.
Never one to knowingly shy away from the spotlight, I volunteered to kick of the event. As ever, I had to start by explaining where exactly TU and Middlesbrough are (“If you hit Newcastle you’ve gone too far, if you hit Redcar, well, you have my sympathies but also you’ve not gone far enough…”). I spoke for a bit about why we needed to address our Foundation Year and my preference for high-risk/high-reward approaches to work. I explained the data-led approach that I took and described our trip to Olin College of Engineering near Boston which was core to the new philosophy we adopted. I also talked through the months of development we did to ensure we got it right. I was very honest when it came on the difficulties we faced, but also the exciting potential reinvigorating the year offered. Work can be very hectic, so it was only when I was pulling together my presentation that I was reminded of just how much time, effort and energy we had put into this new programme.
After me, Lorraine Gearing from Coventry University gave a talk on her experiences. The Coventry context was a bit different, as their Foundation Year was entirely separate to their main undergrad provision. There were key themes that we all faced – defining the remit of the FY, understanding the needs and backgrounds of your FY students, and making sure that you enthused staff and learners to set them up for their subsequent years in education.
The rest of the event was broken down into workshops – giving everyone the chance to talk through ideas, problems, and so on. It was really interesting, and I got a lot out of the day. It’s always reassuring to hear that others are facing similar situations, but that there are alternative ways of addressing them. I’ve certainly come away with a few good ideas to try back at Teesside.