Paradox for professors and porters

November 10, 1995

Paul Guilfoyle and Stephanie Marshall on skills transfers between further and higher education.

Moves towards collaboration and partnership in higher education can bring unforeseen benefits for both parties.

In March 1994, York College of Further and Higher Education became an associate college of the University of York. Various initiatives of collaboration - many of which had already been under way - became formalised and extended. Staff who had made tentative links with their counterparts before associateship endeavoured to forge closer working relationships. Staff development emerged as one such area where reciprocity proved to be a great bonus to each institution in helping to address staff development training needs which could not otherwise have been addressed.

At the University of York, with 1,679 salaried staff on roll, training in information technology was regularly highlighted as an area where staff felt they required assistance. The old cliche of staff using expensive computing equipment as typewriters appeared to hold true.

Surveys of IT training needs and annual training needs audits had been conducted, demonstrating that staff were concerned primarily about only one training issue: IT. The volume of training being requested was far greater than the capacity of the university's computing services could manage. Departmental training representatives for all categories of staff voiced their growing concern through the university's central training panels, ultimately feeding through to the new staff development and training committee. In February, a rigorous analysis of the data revealed that there was a substantial IT training need across the whole university. IT training was seen as a key component to help realise corporate objectives. Urgent steps were required to address the backlog of training.

But this raised questions about level of training, who would carry it out and who would pay. The business studies department of York College had provided excellent IT training in one of the university's academic departments.

The two staff development offices had previously explored areas for collaboration, but the IT project appeared to offer the greatest challenge. So, in return for the college offering expertise in IT, the university, at a later date, would offer expertise in academic training. An action plan to meet the IT training needs was mapped out, whereby university staff were to enrol for the RSA Computer Literacy and Information Technology Certificate (CLAIT) as part-time college students. It was decided that any training towards CLAIT certification needed to commence with an introduction to the basic Windows operating systems platform, before any training in the four packages supported by the university's information systems committee. The introduction was followed by three graded half-day sessions on other applications sessions. Staff would be advised to select any number of applications (provided the training would support their work) and to enter at the appropriate level.

A briefing meeting was held as the "official launch" of the IT programme, with all departmental training officers invited - some 37 members representing all categories of staff - and three union representatives. All had previously been circulated with a schedule of courses and brief details, stressing that courses were open to all members of staff who were in need of IT training, but required that all staff take a CLAIT exam at the end of their training as a condition of enrolment. It was now up to the training officers to ask questions prior to enrolling members of their departments, via the staff development office, on courses. In June, the rolling programme of half-day courses commenced. Often there were six courses running each day, utilising the largest three computer classrooms which held 20 PCs, as it was believed that the bulk of the training should take place over the summer, minimising disruption for staff and students. The programme was due to finish by the start of the new academic year last month to allow the computer classrooms to return to their intended use.

In June the rolling programme began with a series of 12 sessions on Introduction to Windows, followed by 38 sessions on WordPerfect, 18 sessions on QuattroPro, 17 on Paradox, 16 courses on ECS mail (offered by the university's computing services) and 24 certification sessions. Three hundred and forty university staff participated (20 per cent). The courses saw junior secretarial and clerical staff, in a number of instances, sitting next to senior administrators and professors who, in turn, were on a few occasions sitting next to portering staff. Many participants were departmental training officers who subsequently "cascaded" the training to other staff.

Any immediate evaluation would suggest that the programme was clearly a success. Staff morale appears to have changed markedly since they have received training, particularly in Paradox, to which they now are able to download the central databases and manipulate them for departments' individual needs. Many university staff now feel a greater affinity to their "partnered" college in that if it had not been for the partnership, the university would not have been able to support such a large-scale training programme. College staff training on the university campus has helped to demystify the perception that "the university staff were something quite apart from students they had previously trained".

The university needs to consider the next stage of the collaboration - academic opportunities for college staff. This is being negotiated. If Phase 1 is anything to go by, it demonstrates that partnerships between further education and higher education are an effective means by which a greater range of training can be met.

Paul Guilfoyle is staff development manager, York College of Further and Higher Education. Stephanie Marshall is staff development officer, University of York.

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