Independent’s Day – A Follow Up

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Following an article I wrote for SCAN on the closure of the Innovation and Enterprise Unit, entitled ‘Independent’s Day’, I managed to track down two members of staff from that department to see if they wished to give me their opinions on the university’s decision.

Robbie Smith graduated from the old Independent studies department, now the Innovation and Enterprise Unit, in 1988 and began teaching there in 1994. Davey Garland also did an Independent Studies degree after being recruited from Ruskin College Oxford where he was doing a foundation degree. He has been a member of staff since 2001. The Independent Studies Department started life back in 1973 and changed its name to the Innovation and Enterprise Unit at the beginning of the century, but is set to end its life at Lancaster University at the end of the academic year due to a continuing decrease in numbers over the last few years.

Both Robbie and Davey expressed their dismay at the University’s decision, saying that the University have chosen not to use the full potential of the department and seemingly based their decisions on financial grounds. Though, one has to question how successful a department can realistically be if they are denied the opportunity to recruit through the UCAS system which was described by Robbie as ‘Not the healthiest way to recruit students’ with Davey saying ‘If you don’t go out and recruit from feeder colleges like I was or go to UCAS and are restrained to recruit within a university you’re hands are tied and you will go down.’  Robbie was quick to add that it is no guarantee that being allowed to recruit the conventional way would have provided the boost to numbers that is desired by those higher up in University management but there would have been the potential to do so and it seems that, logically speaking, this option should come before any closure of a department.

The two members of staff were concerned with the impact the closure would have on the ‘non-traditional’ students that are in the University. The closure of the department ends its focus on active learning and developing the skills of critical reflection upon one’s learning, the department also used alternative formats to give those students who found the fundamentals of essay writing difficult to grasp another way to present their work. This would seem to be a move away from the idea of all inclusive learning that we hear the government harking on about and a move towards a one-size fits all university education. Davey said that this move will add more pressure on those non-traditional learners and eventually something will break, if it hasn’t done so already. It appears that the department could have been used to allow those non-traditional students who found the standard black and white degree scheme a challenge, almost as if it was acting as a safety net to catch those that the system was failing. It was also suggested that an alternative to a two- or three-module part one system, where all the modules are kept within individual departments, could be to say that all students do a module similar to those taught by the Innovation and Enterprise Unit and do two modules in other departments as they wish. This would allow all students to improve their study and research skills benefiting both the students and the University as a whole.

Robbie finished the interview with a final comment in reference to the department as a whole: ‘Doesn’t that sound like something that would attract students to the university and possibly even a money spinner. This is an alternative vision that the university has chosen not to explore.’

There appears to have been a narrow view of the situation taken by the university’s management when it comes to the Innovation and Enterprise Unit. Setting recruitment targets without letting them compete with the bigger departments within the University is similar to being asked to unlock a door with the wrong key. Whilst it is as yet unclear what affect the closure of the department will have, especially on those non-traditional learners Davey mentioned, what does seem clear is that the University could have used the department to complement other departments to the advantage of both the university and, more importantly, the students.