Make H.E. staff reflect on the purpose of STEM education

Carl Senior, Associate Dean, Learning & Teaching in the School of Life & Health Sciences at Aston University 

As the number of students entering Higher Education (HE) continues to grow, the sector now stands at the threshold of a major shift in its philosophy. No longer does the academic prerogative belong to a generation who valued learning for the sake of enlightenment. Many of today’s undergraduate students enter their programmes of study with a primary desire to improve their position in the employability market. Universities have been quick to meet this need and institutional offerings have followed suit, enabling students to gain experience in a range of programmes that focus on the provision of ‘value added’ benefits. Here, students are encouraged to develop expertise in a range of topics from entrepreneurship and enterprise to intellectual property and even leadership skills.

As with most employment sectors, market forces constantly shape the organization. This is especially true in STEM sectors, where the market demands a constant stream of employable scientists and engineers to feed the ‘STEM pipeline’.

In light of such forces can universities still ensure that they champion the outlook of John Henry Newman, who said ‘the greatest contribution has been the education of the mind and the cultivation of understanding, not the providing of technical of skills for the workforce’? Can today’s academic system channel the forces of the higher education market to ensure our students develop the critical thinking skills so needed to ensure that they can see things as they are, get right to the point, discard what is irrelevant and detect misleading arguments?

To ensure that the HE sector continues to enable graduates to become effective citizens who contribute to the betterment of society it is important that all HE staff who interact with students on an almost daily basis are allowed the opportunity to reflect on what makes a university an effective learning environment.

My idea is that it becomes a legal requirement that all HE staff are provided with the opportunity to have a full day to reflect and discuss issues that will ensure HE study produces graduates who remain effective citizens.

Carl Senior is currently the Associate Dean, Learning & Teaching in the School of Life & Health Sciences at Aston University as well as a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a National Teaching Fellow. In 2015 he was also elected to the Fellowship of the British Psychological Society.



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