'Unexcited' Hefce accused of burying e-learning ideas

September 19, 2003

Academics have accused the Higher Education Funding Council for England of "burying" consultation on its e-learning strategy, which was launched in July.

Vice-chancellors and principals were asked for their views on the strategy by December 1. But the council did not consult the biggest annual gathering of higher education staff working in communication and information technologies in the UK.

The Association for Learning Technology, of which Hefce is a member, held its tenth annual conference at Sheffield University last week. Some 500 people attended the three-day event. The ALT is supported by more than 150 universities, colleges and other learning providers, and has more than 30 corporate members.

But while the Department for Education and Skills sent representatives and held a workshop to get feedback on the report Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy , Hefce did not send representatives, produce any publicity material or hold any debates.

Many delegates were unaware of Hefce's draft strategy, which is publicly available from its website only, where it appears as a circular letter to university leaders.

Ironically, the strategy emphasises the role of learning technologists in e-learning and the need to gather more evidence and analyse existing research. More than 100 research papers were presented at the ALT.

Rhonda Riachhi, director of the ALT, said: "You either do a consultation or you don't. We need to involve the community in lots of different ways to get feedback. We believe Hefce has got all the bases covered in its strategy, but so far the consulting has been low-key, just v-cs and principals."

Kathy Wiles, senior adviser at the Learning and Teaching Support Network's generic centre, said that if the DFES was taking e-learning seriously, then Hefce had a duty to do the same. "We need Hefce to show senior managers the way on e-learning and not pay lip service. They've published a strategy but don't seem excited about it. It's as though they've buried it."

Jonathan Darby, chief architect of UKeU, which used the conference to launch the UK's first e-learning research centre, funded by Hefce and operating jointly with Southampton and Manchester universities, said: "It was a missed opportunity to have someone listen to concerns."

Barry Phillips, who led the DFES workshop, said that higher education did not feature strongly in the government's strategy because his small team had devolved autonomy to Hefce to put flesh on the bones.

Liz Franco, who is the named Hefce contact on the letter to vice-chancellors, said she assumed someone would attend the ALT.

"At some point, UKeU is going to put on an event that will look at the research centre and the e-learning strategy but not on a big scale. We need to do more about promoting the consultation," she admitted.

UKeU has decided not to hold an event, it announced this week.

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