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Professor Rachel Cragg on new publication ‘Changes in the Higher Education Sector’

Changes in the Higher Education Sector

Contemporary Drivers and the Pursuit of Excellence

By Khalid Khan, Dawne Gurbutt, and Rachel Cragg


In this new book, BNU’s Professor Rachel Cragg and her cowriters consider the essential attributes of excellence in teaching as well as factors both internal and external that are driving higher educational institutes to raise their quality of teaching. The book looks at the latest teaching methodologies that promote deep learning and enables students to ultimately become independent learners.

Rachel sat down to answer some questions about the book and its place in the sector.

Tell us more about your contribution to the book – what are the key areas of your expertise and experience and which chapters did you write?


I co-authored the book with two colleagues, Dr Khalid Khan and Professor Dawne Gurbutt. Dawne and I have previously written together and enjoy sharing ideas, thoughts and reflections. More recently Khalid had been awarded a University Teaching Award at UCLan and had some great ideas to develop a text that would be of value to academic colleagues seeking to contextualise the expectations of universities and their practice in relation to the external policy environment.

My contribution focused on the definition of Teaching Excellence and an exploration of what matters in relation to the policy environment, value of education, inclusivity, employability, and our professional framework for development as educators.


What do you consider to be the biggest challenges ahead and where should HEIs be placing their strategic focus?


As a sector we are faced with a number of external challenges and opportunities. Changing demographics should lead to an increased demand for higher education, thereby placing us in a great position for growth. However the policy environment is such that there will be increased pressure to demonstrate the value of the education we provide. This is set in the context of a reduction in the real value of student fee. Curriculum 23 seeks to identify the opportunities to enhance our offer whilst also recognising the need for efficiencies in our approach.

Our focus must be on student attainment. As they join the University, learners are making an investment in themselves. We owe it to them to provide them with the very best education, environment, and experience to enable them to be successful in their future employment. These are the measures of the TEF and these are the principles underpinning our curriculum work for C23.


What is your and BNU’s stance on the potential controversy around using the TEF assessment of teaching excellence to control tuition fees for students?


The book was drafted before the sector received the latest TEF consultation and the responses to the Augar Report.

The current consultation on the new TEF clarifies the relationship between OfS Registration as meeting baseline standards and TEF as excellence above the baseline.

My personal view is that the TEF (old and new) frameworks are very helpful definitions of excellence in HE, benefitted by the opportunity for provider narratives which contextualise excellence within their own institution. The proposed introduction of a ‘requires improvement’ TEF outcome (which I do not support) further exemplifies that the UK higher education sector sees excellence as the minimum expectation of quality.


What is BNU doing to raise their quality of teaching and what are you most proud about so far in terms of introducing the latest methodologies at BNU? Which student-centred approaches to teaching and learning are employed at BNU, and how have they been received by staff and students?


The quality of learning and teaching at BNU is generally good. I am so proud of the way the University shifted to online delivery.


How did you find writing a book during lockdown, and how did you manage the process with your co-writers?


My co-authors and I had agreed to write the book before lockdown. All of the hard work took place during lockdown enabled by a couple of online meetings. We never had the opportunity for a face to face catch up and we are looking forward to arranging one now that the book has been published.  It was great to share drafts with one another, commenting and moving elements around as the book began to take shape.

Khalid took the lead in working with the publishers; Dawne and I responding as required. We are a good team and valued the critique of one another.

I really enjoyed writing during lockdown. Particularly in the early days when there was so much uncertainty and a lot of pressure at work, it was a challenge to find a moment to sit and write. I am not very good at being at home; in the early days of lockdown I really didn’t know what to do with time away from work. Writing was a different focus that helped me to think about those things that really matter in the context of excellence in HE, beyond the operational challenges of continuing to delivery excellence in the context of the pandemic.


Anthem Press. Book web page -