Higher medicine for coping with more students and less cash

23rd August 1996 at 01:00
Enabling Student Learning - Systems and Strategies, Edited by Gina Wisker, and Sally Brown, Pounds 18.99 Kogan Page

Here an insight is offered into how higher education institutions are confronting the challenges of an ever-growing and more diverse student population as resources shrink. It offers lessons for further education colleges which are confronting the same changes in student population and curriculum reform.

With the rigours of funding regimes now being introduced, colleges must make certain they retain students and ensure that they achieve their goals. The needfor effective guidance systems is highlighted throughout the first section.

The authors argue for comprehensive and integrated quality assurance systems and institutional support to match individual student needs. But their arguments go further, stressing the need to ensure continuous support for the staff as well.

The book is in two sections. The first addresses the systems and structures which help students learn. It gives a comprehensive overview of issues confronting colleges and universities. Good case histories add relevance to the practical matters.

The authors also stress that with the shift towards a student-centred approach to learning - and the impact of college charters - students themselves make increased demands on institutions. The introduction of modular schemes and flexible programmes divided into units also create a greater need for better guidance and support.

The authors point out that the development of learning support is not a cheap or easy option and that the college must make a strategic decision to invest in the systems and management structures required.

All but two of the authors are from England - mostly from new universities. Two are from the United States and New Zealand. Curiously, there is none from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, where there are surely some of the most interesting developments in learner support.

The second section looks at strategies which are again backed up with case studies. It is the commentaries which will help those in FE and adult education relate to the HE experience. It also gives insights into the additional instruction and tuition learners will need, very often assisted by computer-based learning techniques.

One particularly pertinent chapter for FE calls for more enlightened assessment following the changes in curriculum support and the increasing range of students' abilities and expectations.

Throughout the book references are made to the Enterprise in Higher Education Initiative. I would have liked to see evaluation of this project. Although the authors provide a valuable summary, it would have helped if they had tried to make connections throughout the book. None the less, this is a valuable contribution to this important area in colleges.

Dick Evans is principal of Stockport College of FHE

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