It might appear a little odd for a university to be committing to a £15 million extension to its education institute at a time when other universities are “questioning whether they even stay in this game at all”, admits Samantha Twiselton, founding director of Sheffield Hallam University’s Sheffield Institute of Education.
But, for all the havoc created by the government’s policy of moving large amounts of initial teacher education out of universities and into schools, Professor Twiselton is very confident that the institute’s new building (complete with an outdoor classroom on its roof) will cement Sheffield Hallam’s ability to thrive in the new policy environment.
The building (due to open next September) had a hesitant genesis. Vice-chancellor Philip Jones admits he was somewhat relieved when, in 2009, Sheffield City Council refused planning permission for the original design, since that gave him an opportunity to reflect on whether such a large investment was wise in the wake of the economic crash.
“We were anticipating a significant cut in public expenditure. But we drew breath and thought: ‘Actually, we still have a sizeable business here and [the building project] is a statement of our confidence in our ability to adapt to changing market and political conditions.’”
Those political conditions did indeed change dramatically when Michael Gove swept into the department for education, declared war on “the blob” of perceived vested educational interests and unveiled his new “School Direct” scheme for training new teachers.
According to Professor Twiselton, Mr Gove’s rhetoric was unnecessarily polarising, but the university essentially agreed with the thrust of his policy. “This government recognised that schools need more ownership at every level, including initial teacher education. We have long recognised that, too. We recognise that practitioners have something to offer that we don’t,” she says.
Twiselton was University of Cumbria dean of education before moving to Sheffield Hallam in 2013 to head its newly formed institute of education. She sees the reforms as a “great opportunity” for Sheffield Hallam to exploit its network of partnerships with schools, lending its expertise in scholarship and research in support of schools’ delivery of teacher training and of their ongoing professional development.
The institute’s new building will be connected to the existing centre via an “air bridge”. It will pool the expertise of about 150 academics currently distributed around various locations on the university’s large city campus, including two separate research centres (the Centre for Science Education and the Centre for Education and Inclusion Research).
Professor Twiselton hopes this co-location of experts in diverse areas such as autism, early years, English as a second language and science and maths teaching will facilitate “corridor conversations” that lead to the production of “new and exciting ideas” – an “oiling of the wheels”, as she puts it.
Like Professor Jones, she is frustrated that universities are only told annually how many initial teacher education places they will receive, making planning difficult. But, so far, she is reassured that Sheffield Hallam’s allocation is “holding up” following Mr Gove’s reforms. Meanwhile, the necessity to work out universities’ role in the School Direct programme has led to “deeper conversations” and “deeper partnerships” with schools. One fruit of this, Professor Twiselton says, is a version of a postgraduate qualification for teachers of children with special needs. Another is a programme to educate 40 primary school PE specialists. Both were commissioned directly by the National College for Teaching and Leadership to address shortage areas.
She also sees a potential role for the institute in evaluating the efficacy of school-led delivery.
As Sheffield Hallam is among the five largest universities in the UK, measured by student numbers, Professor Jones is reassured by its ability to compensate for “declines” in some areas of activity by expansion in others. He is hopeful the chances of a decline in education are further reduced by Professor Twiselton’s presence on the government-commissioned panel, chaired by Sir Andrew Carter, charged with reviewing the quality and effectiveness of initial teacher education courses.
“If core allocations [of initial teacher education places] reduce dramatically even more, we will have to keep reviewing and seeing how we respond, but a critical bit of that is being involved in shaping the framework,” he says.
“I am confident we can define a good role for universities like us, for whom partnership work is natural.”
150 educational academics currently spread across several Sheffield Hallam campus locations
University of Manchester
The use of graphene in hydrogen fuel cells could one day lead to generators that run on air. In a paper published in Nature, a team led by University of Manchester Nobel laureate Sir Andre Geim reports that the atom-thick material allows protons to pass through it more efficiently than the membranes used in existing fuel cells. They also discovered that graphene could be used to “sieve” hydrogen out of the atmosphere, for possible use as fuel in the cells.
University of South Wales
Rugby players who suffer multiple concussions may be at a higher risk of developing early onset dementia, according to a researcher. Damian Bailey, professor of physiology and biochemistry at the University of South Wales, studied the brains of nearly 300 current and former rugby players. He concluded that multiple concussions affect how the brain regulates its flow of blood and oxygen and, consequently, accelerate brain ageing.
More than 7,500 pages and images from a university’s rare books and archives have been made available online. All three main collections at Cardiff University (in the history of medicine, architecture and Welsh literature) are represented. The digitisation project allows users to access the Cardiff Medical Officer’s annual reports, for example, as far back as the 1850s and offer a resource for tracking the development of the city, industry in South Wales and changes in public health.
University of Southampton
Academics will lead work to be undertaken in a new £1.4 million research centre that hopes to tackle one factor in the 31 million sick days taken nationwide last year. The Arthritis Research UK/Medical Research Council Centre for Musculoskeletal Health and Work will be based at the University of Southampton, but researchers will collaborate with academics at the universities of Aberdeen, Oxford, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester and Salford, and Imperial College London. The centre will focus on the three main musculoskeletal causes of work disability: back, neck and arm pain, osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis.
A student is clocking up the air miles after deciding to continue his part-time law degree at Teesside University despite having moved to Belfast. Gary Holden was working in air traffic control at Durham Tees Valley Airport when he started the course four years ago. Just a few months in, however, he took a similar job in Northern Ireland. He now flies across the Irish Sea between shifts, sometimes making the journey several times a week. “It’s been tough going…but the experience I’m gaining through the practical aspects of the degree has been invaluable,” Mr Holden said.
University of Essex
Researchers will devise a new tool for reporting human rights abuses. In a three-year knowledge transfer partnership, language experts at the University of Essex will team up with Minority Rights Group International, the human rights organisation, to develop a tool to monitor local, informal reporting of human rights violations via social media and other internet applications. The Ceasefire Project, which will be piloted in Iraq, has additional funding from the European Union.
Goldsmiths, University of London
A university teaching centre has been renamed after the cultural theorist Stuart Hall. The New Academic Building at Goldsmiths, University of London, which opened in 2010, was dedicated to Professor Hall, one of the founders of British cultural studies, on 28 November. Professor Hall’s widow, Catherine, unveiled a specially commissioned light installation, Refracted Prisms, which was created by alumni, at the ceremony, which closed a week-long series of talks and activities celebrating the sociologist’s life and work.
University of Law
A for-profit university has marked the graduation of its first intake of undergraduate law students. The University of Law held a ceremony at The Law Society in London to celebrate the achievements of more than 150 LLB graduates as well as LLM graduates. The University of Law, which is owned by Montagu Private Equity, launched its two-year LLB programme in 2012.