Modules stir mixed reception

October 25, 1996

universities and colleges are increasingly adopting modularisation - the movement now involves around 90 per cent of the sector - but the way it is being introduced is causing resentment among staff who nevertheless welcome its benefits, according to a recent report.

Norman Jackson, assistant director for the Higher Education Quality Council and editor of a new collection of papers on "going modular", says the process has increased awareness of the role of assessment in learning and of ownership and control over what is assessed.

But it is also a traumatic experience for most, usually involving the total reorganisation of curricular content, timetables, assessment systems and staff responsibilities. It also comes when the sector is coping with the pressure of growth and falling resources, semesterisation, and changes in the demands and expectations of students, employers and professional bodies.

Research by Patricia Gregg, author of one of the papers, found that these factors compounded to create staff resentment. They felt modularity had been imposed by university and college managers.

Interviews with 40 academics in five universities revealed that: "Almost universally, staff reported that the decision to modularise had been unilaterally imposed, and complained that opportunities to discuss and debate how to implement modularisation (or semesterisation) had been insufficient, under-resourced and futile."

David Robertson, head of policy development at Liverpool John Moores University, suggests the new modular curriculum is under strain. Conflict is often the result of attempts by managers to shoe-horn "a rich variety of learning experience" into "unsuitable structures", leading to a situation where "many universities end up with unintelligent uniformity".

Dr Jackson said many institutions had adopted modularity in an attempt to position themselves in a rapidly expanding system which might, ultimately, be funded on the basis of learning credits rather than programmes. But "institutions and individual academics are rarely, if ever, prepared for the magnitude of the change" brought about by modularisation. For this reason, academic staff often blame modularisation for all the changes that are taking place.

Dr Jackson said: "Modularity can been seen as a vehicle for change from the old, elitist sys-tem, to the new, mass higher education system. Academics have to blame something for the changes they are having to make during this transition, and modularity is often seen as the easiest scapegoat."

Modular Higher Education in the UK in Focus, available from UCAS (distribution dept), Fulton House, Jessup Avenue, Cheltenham 050 3SH, Pounds 15.

Modular development

England and Wales Universities Colleges Mainly linear 7 26 Unitised/partly unitised 26 13 Modularised/partly modularised 67 61 Modular/unitised since 1992 60 41 Source: Higher Education Quality Council

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