Students at the heart of Higher Education

How can publishers and librarians support the learning needs of students and researchers?

Implications of the HE White Paper

These are times of great change for Higher Education (HE) in the UK.  Student numbers and participation have been increasing for 20 years and the student body has become increasingly transnational.  There have been rises in both the number and variety of courses on offer and new delivery models continue to emerge.

From 2012, the impact of fee rises will be felt in England.  As students begin to pay more for their education, their expectations and demands will increase.  Meanwhile, the UK government has published a white paper for HE, focusing on 'putting students at the heart of higher education' (you can read a helpful summary of the White Paper here). 

The White Paper has implications for other players in Higher Education, including librarians and academic publishers.  Speaking at a one-day conference organised by The Publishers Association the keynote speaker, Professor Ian Diamond of the University of Aberdeen outlined the potential impact of the White Paper.

The role of the 21st century university

Research is seen as fundamental to economic development in knowledge economies.  Brazil, China, Germany, India, South Korea and the US have all stated that they have plans to increase investment in R&D.   Universities are key players in the education of a highly skilled workforce.  They are also critical to ensuring high quality and impactful research.   

Research-based learning relies on access to cutting edge publications, books, journals and grey literature - in appropriate formats and when required.   They need to be digitised if appropriate and quality controls should be in place, irrespective of format. 

Open Access

The RCUK (Research Council UK) supports the principles of Open Access (OA).  The speed of dissemination and the principles of making content available to the developing world are helping drive OA.   Several unresolved issues remain:

  • How can the desire for speed/rapid publishing be balanced with the quality assurance that comes from peer review processes?
  • How will embargo dates be agreed?
  • What are the best funding mechanisms?
  • What are the most suitable repositories?
  • How can we manage version control?
  • How can we ensure that funding sources are correctly acknowledged?

New models, new partnerships, new challenges

  • Opportunities for new partnerships where pedagogy meets publishing. There are publishing/copyright issues around e-learning but great opportunities
  • Grey literature - opportunities for new digitisation projects/products
  • Publishers and others to mentor a new generation of peer reviewers
  • Digital right management - still many challenges!
  • The digital humanities - a huge potential area for growth, enabling wider access to special collections
  • Shared service and new commercial models must be explored
  • Publishers and others need to be aware of trends in open data, research integrity, data availability on publication, product mash-ups etc
  • The 'citizen researcher' is a new, important player
  • Publishing still matters - it's about quality control!

And what of libraries?

For Professor Diamond, libraries are central to education and enterprise.  They are a fundamental part of the future of academic enterprise.   And the physical space is just as important as ever - redesigned perhaps to better reflect how students and researchers are learning and collaborating - but not purely a 'virtual' library.  Libraries must be staffed by professionals and subject experts who can guide students and researchers and who can collaborate with publishers as they work towards new ways of assuring access to information.   There are opportunities for academic libraries to become publishers themselves, working with appropriate partners. 

Partnership and collaboration are, it seems, the future of teaching, research, publishing and academic libraries.

Professor Diamond was the keynote speaker at The Publishers Association Conference Putting Students at the Heart of the System: how to fulfill their learning needs?

Image courtesy of katerha via Flickr.