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Learning and Teaching Handbook

7.1: Education Strategy


1. The University's ambitions for its educational provision are clearly stated in University Strategy 2010-20:

We will achieve the highest standards in research-led education for both undergraduates and postgraduates, linking research and education in creative ways. We will provide a stimulating environment that empowers all to learn and develop to their full potential. We will foster enjoyment and esteem of independent learning, both formal and informal. We will welcome the most able and motivated students, whatever their background.

A Durham University education will build on our traditional and distinctive approach to academic and personal development. Students will engage directly with world-leading scholars in our academic departments, supported by exceptional opportunities for personal development in our residential college communities. Durham students will be challenged by the biggest issues in their academic discipline while at the same time developing and honing skills such as teamwork, creativity and leadership through opportunities to excel outside their formal learning environment, particularly through sport, culture and community engagement. They will be exceptionally well prepared for their future lives and employment.

2. These ambitions are rooted in Durham's commitment to the pursuit of excellence in both education and research, the University's two equal and interlinked priorities. The role of the Education Strategy is to provide a clear framework for implementation.

Underpinning values

3. Durham's educational provision is underpinned by a belief that both the University's students and those staff engaged in the delivery and support of learning, teaching and research supervision are members of the same community of academic practice, a community that is made distinctive by the collegiate and international nature of the University. While their respective roles may differ, all groups work together as an academic community committed to educational excellence and a culture of reflective practice.

4. The University offers a student-centred approach to education that places the student at the centre of learning, teaching and research supervision, in which all students are supported by the University to develop as independent learners, taking increasing responsibility for their own personal and professional development, and thereby realising their full potential. By doing this Durham students are inducted into academic communities of practice at the same time that they develop the intellectual and personal qualities that will prepare them for their future lives and employment. At the heart of the University's Education Strategy, therefore, are four interlinked themes that support this student-centred approach.

Key themes

Research-led education

5. Research-led education derives its unique value from the academic community of practice in which it is based.[*] The University's community consists of academics, students and professionals whose activities are based on shared knowledge and investigative skills derived from research. Durham's academic community of practice must be understood at both a university-wide and a disciplinary level. Each degree programme derives from one or more specific academic communities of practice, and the form of research-led education on each programme should reflect this. Some programmes will naturally, by virtue of the communities they serve, involve more or less exposure to practice-based, professional or scholarly forms of inquiry. All disciplines will expose students to research, in a way informed by pedagogical scholarship; will educate students in investigative skills that prepare them for their future; and give students the opportunity to engage in research themselves.

6. To this end, all departments should:

a. Identify the nature of the relevant community of practice, and what counts as "research" within this community.

b. Select the modes of exposure to research used in or best suited to the academic community of practice.

c. Adopt and articulate a programme structure best suited to delivering modes of exposure.

d. Put in place and articulate mechanisms to ensure that the content of individual teaching maintains the appropriate focus on the chosen modes of exposure associated with individual modules.

e. Ensure that all doctoral students actively participate in leading research activity such that by the end of their programme of study they have made a significant contribution to the development of their subject through the creation of new knowledge

Student experience

7. The academic success and personal development of our students is dependent on their taking personal responsibility for their learning and taking up the opportunities offered by the collegiate environment in which they live and study. Durham is uniquely placed to deliver support to our students though a partnership between our academic departments, the colleges and specialist support services.

8. With a more diverse student population the University must ensure that its strategies for supporting our students are reviewed, maintained and enhanced. It will also be vital that support for students is fit for purpose in an environment where the fees regime and student expectations may change significantly, and the University has increasing obligations placed upon it in by a developing legislative framework in relation to students (including, for example, the Disability Discrimination Act and Special Educational Needs and Disability Act).

9. To meet these challenges the University will:

a. Ensure continuous improvement by being responsive to all forms of feedback from students, and that the feedback loop is closed by highlighting to students how the issues raised are being addressed.

b. Strengthen student engagement in the development of learning and teaching and student experience initiatives.

c. Ensure all students are provided with appropriate levels of support, through our colleges, academic departments and professional support services, and that Durham enhances the coherence of support provision across different parts of the University.

d. Further diversify its student body in order to attract and admit students with the greatest potential to contribute to, and to benefit from, the education we provide, irrespective of their background, and ensure that the University is well placed to meet the individual support needs of this increasingly diverse student body.

Employability and skills

10. The University will ensure that our graduates stand the very best chance of securing the type of employment they want, whether it is in the not for profit, private or public sectors, and that the University produces 'Durham Graduates' who are in very high demand by employers. In order to achieve this, the University will provide students with an integrated educational experience that develops in our students a range of knowledge, skills and attributes that will equip them for the future in whatever field they choose. This educational experience will combine the opportunities for personal development offered through the University's distinctive college system (drawing where appropriate on the knowledge, skills and experience of Durham alumni.), with the cognitive, analytical and transferable skills developed by students through their research-led programmes of study.

11. To meet these goals, the University will:

a. Develop stronger links between our colleges and academic departments to enable it to offer a distinctive and integrated approach to the intellectual and personal development of our students.

b. Further develop opportunities for all of our students to experience the world of work through internships and placements, and the opportunities for leadership and engagement available through our colleges; student societies; and community outreach in sport, culture and volunteering.

c. Ensure that our students are in high demand by developing: research, influencing and communication skills; the ability to manage their own intellectual, personal and professional development; and the qualities of leadership, creativity and entrepreneurialism.

d. Provide through our college communities a sense of citizenship, loyalty and belonging that supports the future success of our students


12. Durham is a world university, and all students are given the opportunity to become international citizens with an understanding of cultures, languages and belief systems other than their own, so they may make a positive contribution to an increasingly multi-cultural and globalized society. We are committed to ensuring that all our students study on programmes that are internationally relevant and that they have opportunities to engage with and learn from a diverse student and staff population.

13. To achieve these ambitions:

a. Our staff will be supported in the development of programmes that draw on the international relevance of their research, and which develop the skills and inter-cultural competence and employability of all our students.

b. We will strongly encourage students to access language courses delivered through the University's Centre for Foreign Language Study, and where appropriate remove barriers to the take-up of languages within the curriculum.

c. We will increase opportunities for study, work and volunteering placements with an international dimension and ensure that all students have equal access to these opportunities.

d. We will value the diversity of our student body and ensure that the academic and social life of the University reflect and benefit from this cultural diversity.

e. Through our Regional Interest Groups, we will form strategic partnerships with international institutions of high standing to enhance opportunities for staff and students through the development of research links, joint programme development, exchange placements and the sharing of best practice.


14. The aims set out above represent a challenging agenda intended to ensure that the University's educational provision continues to provide a truly distinctive and excellent educational experience for our students. These aims will be met through the achievement of the following objectives for the period 2010-15 (and thereby support achievement of the aims, objectives and key targets in the University Strategy 2010-20):


Cross reference to University Strategy

Research-led education



To develop a comprehensive Doctoral Training Centre structure across our Graduate School to innovate in postgraduate (Masters and PhD) recruitment, support, education and development.

Research A2, O(i)


To undertake a full review of the University's portfolio of taught programmes, to define more clearly the nature of the 'Durham offer', to ensure that explicit, innovative and coherent approaches to research-led learning are in place for all stages of all programmes and that the roles of employability and internationalisation within the curriculum are addressed.

Education A1, O(i)


To undertake a phased, comprehensive review of the University's programme specifications and module outlines in order to ensure that research-led approaches to learning, the development of employability skills and international aspects of the curriculum are explicit.

Education A1, O(i)


To put in place structures and processes to allow the strategic development of the University's portfolio of taught programmes in response to the emergence at faculty and University levels of new research themes and strengths, interdisciplinary opportunities (including those associated with the University's research institutes) and evidence of strong market demand in areas aligned with the University's research expertise.

Education A1, O(i)


To revise the University's current strategy for developing collaborative partnerships.

Education A2, O(iii)


To review the shape of the academic year, to ensure that this remains effective in supporting the University's aims of providing research-led education, and developing communities of practice involving staff and students through effective interaction of these two groups.

Education A1, O(i)


To ensure that excellence in learning, teaching and research supervision is appropriately recognised and rewarded by the University.

Education A1, O(ii)


To ensure that the University's approach to awards for excellence and innovation in learning, teaching and research supervision have a significant impact on the educational opportunities offered by the University, and receive the prominence they deserve.

Education A1, O(ii)


To ensure that staff engaged in the delivery or support of learning, teaching and research supervision are supported effectively in developing a track record that will allow them to compete successfully for external awards recognising excellence in learning and teaching.

Education A1, O(ii)


To ensure that staff on teaching-only contracts have good opportunities for continued professional development, recognising that their contribution is of equivalent value but different from that of staff on the lecturer career pathway.

Education A1, O(ii)


To review the current and future provision of financial support to postgraduate students, to ensure that the University is gaining the maximum benefit from the funding allocated to this area and that the mechanisms for managing these funds are fit for purpose and aligned to University, faculty and departmental needs and priorities.

Research A2, O(iii)


To implement a rolling schedule of reviews of the University's quality management framework and processes to ensure that these align with the University's commitment to maintaining and developing a culture of reflective practice;  are fully aligned with the research-led nature of the University's educational provision;  are proportionate;  and that they continue to meet external expectations and requirements.

Education A1, O(i);  Sustainability A3, O(vii)


To ensure that all significant initiatives submitted to EC for consideration include an impact assessment that addresses the costs and benefits of the proposal.

Sustainability A3, O(vii)

Student experience



To ensure that at all levels the University engages effectively with students, using their views and feedback to enhance educational opportunities (including effective feedback to students on how the issues raised by them are addressed).

Education A1, O(ii);  Community and Place A1, O(iv)


To undertake a full review of the support provided by the University to its students across academic departments, colleges and specialist support services, to ensure that the full benefits of the extensive support for students and their personal development are fully realised.

Education A2, O(i)


To further develop the links between pastoral care provided through Colleges, and the academic support and guidance provided by departments/schools, and embed mechanisms to promote these links.

Education A2, O(iii)


To diversify and enhance the postgraduate experience across the University's colleges.

Research A2, O(iii);  A3, O(iv)


To develop a clear resources strategy that ensures the resources available for education and research are appropriate for a world-class university, and that appropriate mechanisms are in place to deliver sustainable improvements, which in respect of education are aligned with current and developing pedagogical approaches.

Education A1, O(iii)


To establish core levels of facilities provision for taught and research postgraduate students, and to implement these across the University.

Research A2, O(iii)


To monitor the achievement of the targets in the University's Undergraduate Admissions Strategy for diversifying the student population, and where necessary revise this strategy to further support achievement of these targets.

Education A1, O(iv); Sustainability A1, O(iii)


To ensure that the University is well-placed to meet the individual support needs of an increasingly diverse student body including (but not exclusive to) disabled students, part-time students, postgraduates and international students.

Education A2, O(iii)


To mainstream into the management of learning and teaching at all levels anticipatory and responsive consideration and implementation of reasonable adjustments for disability.

Sustainability A3, O(vi)


To establish Foundation Centre provision at Durham City campus, and establish a sector-leading programme at Durham City that ensures that progression routes exist from the Foundation Centre's programmes to all University departments/schools.

Education A1, O(iv) ; Sustainability A1, O(iii)


To conduct a full review of the University's postgraduate admissions and recruitment strategy, and the supporting policies and processes.

Education A1, O(iv)


To review the current allocation of undergraduate quota.

Education A1, O(iv)


To ensure that faculties and departments/schools receive effective support in recruitment and marketing for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, both pre- and post-offer.

Education A1, O(iv)


To enhance the information on the University's educational provision made available to applicants and current students, ensuring that this meets or exceeds the quality of provision at comparator HEIs.

Education A1, O(iv)


To ensure the better integration and alignment of student support services with the academic mission of the University.

Education A2, O(iii)


To ensure that the opportunities to deliver access to high quality student services via the Gateway Building are realised.

Education A2, O(iii)

Employability and skills



In addition see objectives 2 and 3, which will also address this theme.



To develop an innovative model(s) for the provision of employability and skills development opportunities for all students.

Research A2, O(iii)


To evaluate the effectiveness of the Durham Award, and the new approach to personal development planning, in order to ensure that the benefits of this provision are fully realised.

Education A2, O(i)


To further develop opportunities for our students to experience the world of work through internships and placements, including reviewing the provision and support for work placement/internship and volunteering activities, both within and outwith the curriculum.

Education A2, O(i), O(ii)


To further develop opportunities for leadership and engagement through our colleges and students societies and community outreach in sport, culture and volunteering.

Education A2, O(i)


To enhance the University's engagement with international businesses and employers, developing links with employers overseas.

Education A2, O(i); Education A3, O(iii)


Where consistent with market demand and the academic mission and research-led expertise of the University, to support the provision of flexible learning opportunities for continuing professional development (credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing).

Education A1, O(iv)




In addition see objectives 2, 3, 15, 21 and 34, which will also address this theme.



To increase the number of partner HEIs where Durham University has agreements for year-long student placements and exchanges.

Education A3, O(iii)


To increase the number of departments/schools offering programmes including non-credit-bearing placement/exchange years.

Education A3, O(iii)


To increase the number of programmes offering integral, short-term credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing international placements/study visits.

Education A3, O(iii)


To enhance the support to staff in developing their learning, teaching and supervisory practice in response to the increasing diversity of the University's student population.

Education A3, O(ii)


To develop mechanisms to support staff engaged in the delivery and support of learning, teaching and research supervision to visit partner HEIs overseas, and to facilitate visits from staff in partner HEIs to Durham University, in order to share effective practice in learning, teaching and research supervision (including internationalisation of the curriculum).

Education A3, O(ii)


To review marketing and recruitment activity in international markets in order to increase applications and diversify markets (thereby attracting increased numbers of high quality applications) and ensure that this activity is aligned to University, faculty and departmental priorities.

Education A3, O(i)


To review the University's engagement with the EU market for undergraduate and postgraduate recruitment, in order raise the University's profile and recruitment from this area.

Education A3, O(i)


To review the processes for the consideration of applications from international students, in order to ensure that speed of processing matches or exceeds that of comparator HEIs.

Education A3, O(i)


To increase the number of employment placements/study visits outside the UK, through the use of external funding and/or increased engagement with international businesses.

Education A3, O(iii)


 [*]       For communities of practice, see E Wenger, Communities of practice:  learning, meaning and identity (Cambridge, 1998, Cambridge University Press)