Carpe diem as Cetl plan winds down

As funding for the UK's largest-ever initiative in teaching and learning expires, the lifespan of many Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning is coming to an end. But some Cetls have secured their future by becoming financially self-sufficient. Rebecca Attwood reports

June 3, 2010

Centre for Excellence in Media Practice - University of Bournemouth

While some Cetls are closing and others are being merged into university departments, the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice at the University of Bournemouth is taking on more staff.

Under the Cetl programme, the centre received £500,000 a year from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, while £1.9 million in capital funding allowed the university to build new facilities including a cinema space and design studio.

Next year the Cetl is set to generate £400,000 on its own.

One key source of income is courses. The Cetl set up distance-learning provision in media, offers an MA for media teachers, and is developing professional work-based and co-funded courses for media companies including The Guardian and the BBC.

It has a Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, has won Economic and Social Research Council funding, and has also built a series of online teaching tools.

For example, Box of Broadcasts is a service that makes it easy for university staff and students to record and share programmes. The British Universities Film and Video Council now sells this to universities nationally, and Bournemouth receives a percentage of every fee, which is used to keep the system up to date.

In future, some activities will be paid for by the media school, such as a peer-assisted learning scheme that sees second-year students mentor first years.

Over the past five years, the centre has delivered around 175 workshops nationally and internationally. Many have been free, but in future, the Cetl will have to charge a fee.

It holds a national conference every year, which is attended by around 160 delegates from 80 universities, and it also established the Media Education Research Journal.

"We felt our job was to create spaces where excellent practice across the media and communications area could be disseminated," said Jon Wardle, the centre's director.

The Cetl is now exploring global opportunities - for example, a Baltic film school is interested in its MA for media teachers. The centre has eight staff and is recruiting a new lecturer and four practitioners-in-residence.

"Cetls have been very fortunate to have had the investment that they've had," said Mr Wardle.

"I feel very disappointed that other Cetl teams are being disbanded and that collective intelligence is being lost. But I think some Cetls didn't take sustainability seriously enough. People thought about it too late."

Bristol Chemlabs - University of Bristol

As well as allowing it to transform its own chemistry teaching, winning a chemistry Cetl has helped the University of Bristol to get thousands of school pupils excited about science.

Teaching at Bristol now takes place in top-level facilities, thanks to new labs that opened in 2007, funded with £5 million from the funding council and £16 million from the university.

A big part of the centre's work is about inspiring the next generation of scientists. It hosts school visits as well as holding masterclasses for teachers and workshops for the general public, engaging with some 100,000 people in the past five years.

The centre, known as Bristol ChemLabS, has also developed a web-based lab manual that ensures students arrive in the laboratory fully prepared.

Before a practical session, they conduct virtual experiments and take e-assessments, allowing them to make mistakes without ill effects, and forcing them to think about health and safety.

The Cetl wanted to make its work financially sustainable to secure its future and to give schools the security of being able to build Bristol activities into the curriculum.

To achieve this, schools pay a fee for the activities. Outreach work is also funded via grants from charitable trusts, learned societies and research councils, the British Council and the European Union.

The centre's outreach work has even spread overseas, with university staff and postgraduates travelling as far afield as Singapore, Brunei and South Africa to hold summer schools and workshops.

It has developed an A-level chemistry version of its lab manual, LabSkills, which is sold to schools, colleges and universities.

External funding has made the manual freely available to all trainee chemistry teachers in the UK, and to over 4,000 state schools.

"When we won the Cetl bid, we were determined to maximise the benefits," said Tim Gallagher, head of chemistry at Bristol.

"Potentially, there are lessons here that can be rolled out nationally and internationally. But how does another university put in place what we have done?" he asked.

"Stage two (of the Cetl initiative) should focus on the sector taking those lessons on board and practical uptake elsewhere - otherwise we will be left with pockets of excellence.

"There needs to be a follow-on mechanism to ensure that the opportunities are not wasted," he said.

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