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Understanding Higher Education (UHE)

Level and Year HE Level 4 Year 1 or 2
Duration and Credit Rating 10 weeks (5 taught sessions)
10 Credits HE Level 7
Student Learning Hours The course will consist of 100 hours of student learning


The broad aim of this module to give an overview of the policy frameworks and ideological aims most commonly associated with higher education. A number of key themes will be presented in the form of for and against positions, and participants will be invited to make their own judgements about the validity of the claims being made.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module participants will be able to:

1 offer a systematic and critical assessment of a policy or strategy aimed at HE in the UK and its application within one's own professional practice;

2 suggest ways in one's own professional practice and context is informed by a critical appreciation of the various aims and roles for HE in the UK, as outlined in relevant scholarly work;

3 reflect critically on how different conceptions of academic communities can contribute to the implementation of change in HE, and how this might be managed effectively within one's own professional context.

Indicative Module Content

This is an optional module and builds on the knowledge and understandings gained from the two core modules. It is aimed at those who wish to enhance their understanding of the role of higher education in society. Participants will explore the past, present, and potential future for higher education, and the tensions this has generated. 

Key themes will be: the structure of HE – including an historical overview of the growth of universities in the UK; aims for HE – which will focus on the contrast between liberal and enterprise aims for higher education; academic communities – which will focus on the nature of professional communities and allegiances; management and leadership in HE – which will compare and contrast collegial and managerial approaches; ethical issues in HE – which will focus on notions of justice, and discuss topical themes with an ethical dimension, such as research ethics, and the `greening of the university'. Throughout participants will be invited to form their own judgements on the validity of the various positions which will be presented, and how they are, or might be better, managed in their own professional context

Throughout the themes a critical orientation will be maintained, and participants will be invited to articulate their own understandings of the uses and limitations of the concepts and ideas, and apply them to discussion about how to enhance their own professional practice and how any changes may need to be managed.  The module will provide explicit opportunities for participants to provide evidence of engagement with SEDA PDF core development outcomes and values 2, 3, 5 ande 6. In addition the ILOs, content and assessment are designed to meet the specialistoutcomes for the SEDA PDF award 'Change in HE', where award recipients will be able to:

Identify the drivers underpinning the element of change being considered and explore the impact on the student experience;

Reflect on how they are implementing and developing their practice in light of the needs and challenges arising from change:

Evaluate their effectiveness and contribution to the student experience within the context of this change.

Learning and Teaching Strategies

Each session will begin with a contextualising overview and outline of the key issues. This will be followed by formal debates headed by academics who will present contrasting arguments, or present a personal position on one of the named themes. Participants will be invited to interrogate these positions, and form their own judgements. Each session will finish with a small plenary which will draw together the key issues and identify a conceptual framework for further exploration. The VLE will contain follow up exercises and recommendations for further reading. 


A critical narrative - in the order of 2,000 words. A critical narrative seeks to address a pedagogical issue by consulting relevant scholarly literature, and in the light of that, engaging in systematic critical discussion and personal self-reflection. It should conclude with a series of recommendations or suggestions to enhance aspects of related pedagogical practice, in the light of the previous discussion.

A critical narrative should have the following structure – but not necessarily as headings, or as separate sections:

Identification of the nature and relevance of an issue to one's own pedagogic practice;

References to relevant academic literature;

Discussion, which is systematic and critical, and personal self-reflection;

Application, and suggested enhancements, to one's own professional context.

A critical narrative should be read in the form of: outline of an issue; discussion of that issue; resolution of that issue. 

Illustrative Bibliography

Barnett, R. (2000) Realizing the University in an Age of Supercomplexity. Buckingham: OpenUP.

Becher, T. and Trowler, P. (2001) Academic Tribes and Territories: intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines. Buckingham: OpenUP.

Hargreaves, A. (2003) Teaching in the Knowledge Society. Maidenhead: Open UP.

Lea, J. (2009) Political Correctness and Higher Education. London: Routledge.

Maskell ,D. and Robinson, I. (2002) The New Idea of a University. London: Imprint Academic.

MacFarlane, B. (2003) Teaching with Integrity: the ethics of higher education practice. London: Routledge.


Higher Education Review

Journal of Higher Education

Studies in Higher Education