Part of being an effective Higher Education (HE) professional is knowing when the status quo is serving you, and when something needs to change. For Becky Huxley-Binns, Pro-Vice Chancellor (PVC) for Education at the University of Hull, radical change is not for us to shy away from, but to embrace.
GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews speaks to Becky about her journey through teaching at all levels of education, collaboration within Advance HE, and the initiatives she is most proud of.
I never really left education. I left school, went to university, and did my solicitors finals but didn’t want to practise law, so went to my local college and taught law there at all levels. My first full-time job was teaching at a sixth-form college in Grimsby, then I moved to Nottingham Trent university as a lecturer in law in 2002.
I stayed there until 2015 and became a professor in legal education. From there, I moved to the University of Law as Vice Provost for three years and then wanted to get back into the public sector and work in a multidisciplinary university, so I came here to Hull.
I’ve always seen education as a continuum. Having taught at GCSE and A Level, I saw how the courses changed while I taught them and how students adapted to that. Moving into HE where there isn’t a national curriculum taught me more about academic exploration, through to Ph.D., where students narrowed down their expertise and research.
I’ve had a great insight into the continuum of education at all levels. A lot of educators think that when they get a student they are a blank slate, but that isn’t true.
I’ve always believed in the importance of induction. The institution needs to build the framework but then you need to give students time to get to know it in a safe space, and to get to know one another and develop their own ideas.
Our responsibility is to give students that space to make friendships and connections, which we do through induction, the student union, and student activities. We have a truly inclusive campus.
We have the advantage of having a small campus. We have a lot of international students, and a lot of post-grads, and we assemble things so students identify with their subject group and the university. The union building is also an open and welcoming space, and we’ve been doing more to create more social spaces for people to meet.
I chair the Advance HE UK advisory board panel that appoints national teaching fellows and the collaborative award for teaching excellence. That is where you see the real impact that UKHE colleagues have, and we celebrate true excellence there.
Our responsibility is to give students that space to make friendships and connections, which we do through induction, the student union, and student activities.
I’m also on the Strategic Advisory Board for Teaching and Learning, and that’s where we get into some of the tougher issues in HE like how to increase flexibility, micro-credentials, approaches to teaching excellence, and how to benefit from equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).
We know that inclusivity is a journey and we have started that journey boldly and ambitiously. I am the university sponsor for gender inclusion — and we have sponsors for life stage inclusion, disability engagement and support, and so much more. It’s about evolving alongside change in the world.
We’ve got a great group looking at how often we use reasonable adjustment and how we can design the assessments so that no one needs to adjust because it’s already inclusive. It’s thinking about how we can change things to benefit everyone — that is real inclusivity.
As of 2019, we have replaced learning outcomes with a competence framework, so all programmes and modules have competencies. It moves the paradigm of ‘what you know’ into who you are, what you bring to the subject, and the unique traits of that subject. We know it means something different to be competent in different disciplines. This makes us more inclusive and gives us more purpose in what we are asking our students to learn.
I was sent The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) good practice report for teaching students with disability and it turned my thinking on one side. It talks about if you are teaching students with disabilities who are entitled to reasonable adjustment, when do you make that adjustment?
Generally speaking, the university doesn’t — they make the person with the disability adjust. This report stated that you should only have students adjust when it is a competence, not necessarily when it is a learning outcome.
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The President of Education of the Hull University Student Union; she is so passionate about access, participation, and student voices. She is really constructive and so effective without being confrontational. Her positivity and optimism make her amazing to work with.
John Biggs, Constructive Alignment. It made me realise that in HE that if you can’t get assessment right, you can’t get anything right.