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UCT, Leeds University in R10m tech collaboration

UCT and Leeds University will examine technology's impact on staff, students and employers.

UCT and Leeds University will examine technology's impact on staff, students and employers.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) and Leeds University are collaborating on a R10 million research project to look at the ways technology is affecting traditional campus-based degrees.

The research is funded by the UK-based Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and SA's National Research Foundation and will take place over 26 months. The amount of funding granted is £494 000 by the ESRC in the UK, plus R2 158 000 by the National Research Foundation.

As digital technology continues to influence and disrupt how students learn and are taught, the research will examine its effect on staff, students and employers.

It comes at a time when the UK sector is moving towards increased ‘marketisation' as a result of government initiatives. In SA, meanwhile, universities are seeking ways to level the field for students who come from highly diverse economic and social backgrounds, with a great deal of disparity in experience of using technology.

According to the universities, the success of massive open online courses (MOOCs) has shown there is increasing interest in more flexible models of higher education, especially those evolving into accredited courses.

The MOOCs at Leeds, for example, offer credit that can be used towards a degree to be taken at any university that will accept it, or used to build a portfolio of awards from a range of universities and other accrediting bodies, in lieu of a degree.

Last year, UCT was ranked as the second-best institution creating MOOCs, according to a report published by MOOC aggregator Web site Class Central.

"As well as looking at how digital technology is disrupting higher education, this research will explore how the involvement of alternative providers and external partners is changing the way higher education is offered," says professor Neil Morris, director of digital learning at the University of Leeds.

"It is an exciting example of international collaboration between two research-intensive universities operating in very different contexts, but facing overlapping challenges."

"While there are clearly opportunities offered by new models of provision, there are concerns that ‘unbundled' higher education can lead to fragmentation of the curriculum, increase inequalities among the student body, create a disconnect with the holistic benefits offered by a university experience, and create concerns about quality if a wide range of providers are involved," observes associate professor Laura Czerniewicz, joint principal investigator and director of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at UCT.

"We want to look at these risks and at whose interests this unbundling is serving. Outputs from the project will be shared with higher education decision-makers and government policy-makers to help them to make informed decisions about future initiatives in this area.

"The universities of Leeds and Cape Town are similar types of institutions addressing similar issues in different contexts in ways that can only enrich the study," Czerniewicz concludes.


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