Analysis: 'We build up a community of friends'

August 16, 2002

Clive Robertson is head of the subject centre for hospitality, leisure, sport and tourism based at Oxford Brookes' School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. He also runs a consultancy in product design and evaluation for blue-chip companies, edits a journal and sits on various hospitality industry committees.

The centre also covers recreation, events management and sports science. Professor Robertson is worried by the drop in the number of student applications for hospitality management.

"There was a flurry of bespoke university programmes in the 1970s and 1980s to meet demand in the industry, but now top-level schools such as Surrey and Oxford Brookes are in trouble," he said.

Professor Robertson blames the industry itself for not taking ownership of programmes in the way that engineering has. Poor morale leaves the subject centre fighting an uphill battle for recognition. "We are not getting the penetration we want and it is not helped by the debate about the future."

He condemns the short-termism of funding policy for the LSTN. "All the structures are there for the long haul. If the LTSN is to be a force, and productive, it would be better if it had a guaranteed longer lifeline," he said.

Philip Martin warns that the Learning and Teaching Support Network could be seen as a quango if it does not establish an independent identity.

Professor Martin, who heads the English subject centre based at Royal Holloway College, says that English's strategy for the first two years was outreach work.

"We have a broad base of about 300 contacts in departments. We know them individually," he said.

English does not produce learning materials for academics. "We believe in the personal touch in the classroom. There is a resistance to the idea of 'delivering the curriculum' as if you were an automaton.

"Provision for English is varied. A successful subject centre will have a discriminating knowledge of how English works because it is not the same in all places.

"If departments get autonomy, they'll do interesting things because they are directly related to students," Professor Martin says.

The Centre for Materials Education worked with people - rather than materials - from the start, says Caroline Baillie , deputy director of the centre, which is based at the University of Liverpool.

Staff listed everyone they knew and went visiting to get an inroad into departments. "We built up a community of friends."

The recruitment crisis in materials education is a preoccupation. Materials is a small discipline involving science and engineering, but it is also creative, Dr Baillie says. This creative aspect is often lacking in teaching, and the centre is trying to redress this balance by running workshops and activities. The website provides links for schools, students and employers.

"I got into material sciences as a teenager because of what you could make and do. It is incredibly creative and inspiring. We would get a lot more students if they realised what it was about," she said.

Dr Baillie's tenure at the centre is temporary and part time.

"I cannot be permanently based here because there is no career structure. I have got to worry about research. If people are expected to have as much drive as we have, there ought to academic credit," she said.

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