From undergraduate to postgraduate study
Convergence, divergence, integration
From my my post as Dean of Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences, to my directorship of the University of Birmingham’s College of Arts and Law Graduate School, I have consistently selected roles centred on strategic academic development opportunities.
My passion is for finding ways in which the corporate vitality of modern universities can enable colleagues and students to experience life at the boundaries of disciplines — and to support them in understanding and transgressing those lines.
This is not so much eclecticism as a conviction that great work arises through the liberation of intellectual agenda from traditional expectations of what constitutes a ‘subject’.
Throughout my leadership experience I have focused on exploiting the benefits of a research intensive academic environment, better to foster learning and scholarship that is recognised as genuinely collaborative —
thus, we gain education and activity that look outwards, well beyond the confines of the university to strengthen our city, region, and global mission.
Collaboration, flat hierarchies, and constructive interrogation of expectations challenge organisations, but also make for a virtuous circle in which everyone wins — from the first year undergraduate, to the early career scholar, to the most senior professor.
This is a vision within which, from a student’s first day until successful completion of the highest hoped-for qualification, there are structured opportunities to experience the best that the University of Birmingham offers, to be encouraged to achieve their best work, and to learn to take control of and amplify their individual voices within and outside the academy.
Liberating knowledge & hacking structures
The suite of programmes that makes up Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences at the University of Birmingham was conceived with a simple ambition: to bring the full breadth of the university’s research excellence (Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities) more directly to bear upon the learning and development opportunities of talented, curious students; and to make the creative energies of these students one new way for the university to serve our community and support important civic and enterprise agenda.
With a small pool of determined academics, on secondment from traditional departmental roles, and an adventurous first cohort of students, our first graduating class (summer 2017) has made real what is now a rapidly growing number of UK programmes testing the benefits of going beyond ‘joint’ or ‘combined’ honours degrees to develop learning portfolios that are at once genuinely integrated and uniquely flexible. For every student we admit, a whole new and entirely personal programme of study is collaboratively designed.
Within this radical educational experiment, we have found that by emphasising co-creation of knowledge with entrepreneurs, practitioners, and representatives from cultural and charitable sectors, students from a myriad academic disciplinary areas of interest have been able to undertake ‘consultancy’, solve real-world problems, and bring academics and local organisations together in unprecedented ways.
For our university, this means that the wealth of opportunity that the City of Birmingham offers is transforming their educational outcomes, and degree classifications. For our civic and regional stakeholders, the originality and dynamism of our students, supported by faculty engagement, are delivering economic and intangible capital.
This new way of conceptualising undergraduate study has helped us to showcase areas of our university’s R&D innovation that are now connecting exceptional students, passionate about global challenge questions, and alert to the unknown unknowns that confront strategic thinking in every field of human endeavour, to key stakeholders locally, nationally, and internationally.
Through their shared development of wholly new portfolios of study, including a year of study abroad, Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences students are ambassadors, catalysts, and agents of change in a world that needs ever-more creative solutions and opportunities.
During my leadership of the College Graduate School, I was instrumental in the successful bid to bring Arts and Humanities Research Council funding to what is now a multi-million pound Midlands consortium (M3C), with Warwick connected in the next phase of development.
This was at the heart of an ambitious sweep of funding projects which saw Birmingham’s College of Arts and Law significantly increase taught and research postgraduate funding, and under my leadership, develop new systems for structuring and professionalising research postgraduate experience.
A crucial part of this work was the reconceptualisation of the trajectories of Masters students, and how best their programmes of study could progress with interdisciplinary and employability factors embedded, leading to defined routes towards graduate development and clearer outcomes.