FIMS Learning and Teaching Plan 2008-9 Summary of Key aims


FIMS Learning and Teaching Plan 2008-9

Summary of Key aims

 Improve retention. o Provision of structured additional support for those students identified as o o requiring it. This will require additional staffing resource. Provide in-class PDP for the early years to improve the school-university transition and study techniques. Continue close dialogue with Science Faculties on early warning scheme and Employability project.   Improve feedback and assessment (in response to and to influence NSS). Increase Student Numbers, maintaining/improving quality of entrants o Increase number of applications. Science target of 5% improvement.  o Improve conversion rate (offer -> acceptance -> student). o o Widen geographic coverage (including EU). Eliminate below-tariff entry in 2008. o o o o Move to general tariff by 2009/10. Increase overseas numbers. Prepare for the start of the Accelerated 3-yr degree programmes. Explore opportunities for major expansion of cross-disciplinary PGT programmes.


FIMS departments are highly rated by the 2007 NSS. Amongst Russell Group peers, Computing Science, Psychology, and Maths & Statistics come first, first and third respectively in their subject groups on the overall satisfaction rating. The Faculty’s courses rate particularly highly for intellectual challenge; CS coming first and Psychology third. Despite obvious staff commitment to research, FIMS departments are all rated in the top five in their subject groups for availability of staff. The general trend towards lower ratings for Assessment and Feedback is reflected in the FIMS scores. The Faculty is working hard to understand the issues here and have employed an independent evaluator to run focus groups with students so that effective changes can be made within this session and for the coming session.


As has been mentioned in Section 2, FIMS student numbers are rallying overall, although there are areas for concern. CS is struggling against an international downturn in applications and has been at the forefront of initiatives to change attitudes, both individually with the “CS Inside…” outreach project which most recently has been delivering significant CPD to teachers in order to improve their presentation of the subject, and also nationally, with the formation of a cross universities group that has so far leafleted all secondary schools in Scotland and developed a major information website for pupils. The Faculty is optimistic that this significant investment will increase the pool of available students in the short to medium term. Locally, both Maths and CS are alone in the University for placing students into schools as ambassadors for their subjects, and are now likely to be used as role models for a wave of science ambassador schemes in other subjects. The Faculty’s graduates are in demand by local employers and there is considerable scope to involve them more in the process of outreach. Discussions are currently under way, coordinated by the Careers Service (Morgan Stanley, Graham Technology).

As well as the vital activity at Departmental level, recruitment activity is coordinated at Faculty and Faculties of Science (FoS) level. A FoS funded recruitment officer started work in October (bringing the UK recruitment team to 3). The revamped FoS recruitment committee additionally has started its work (with a dedicated budget of £15K in 2007-8). Another key element is the provision of relevant and interesting courses. All departments regularly review their core provision and seek to expand provision, particularly through new combined degrees that are likely to be attractive. For example, 2008 will see the introduction of BSc(Hons) programmes in Accounting & Statistics and Finance & Statistics. The Faculty Learning and Teaching committee is actively exploring other joint programmes, both at UG and PGT levels. Finally, Maths, Stats and Computing Science are all engaged in the Accelerated 3-yr Honours degree initiatives and will put major investment towards setting these programmes up in the coming year.


Given that current recruitment initiatives are having an effect on numbers, a priority now is to retain these students. The key issues are integration and additionally that Mathematics and Computing Science suffer from being subjects that require continual effort – one missed step can put the entire learning process into jeopardy. All departments are addressing the integration issue through a variety of initiatives. For example, Psychology has a major first-week initiative to improve team-work explicitly, but implicitly to tackle the isolated-student problem, Computer Science now has shared Level 1 and 2 laboratories and Statistics have sessions where Honours students talk to first and second year students about their experiences. To cover the essential difficulty and progressive nature of courses, major initiatives have been introduced this year. Mathematics has radically restructured its tutorial and lab-based provision to ensure improved engagement by students with formatively-assessed work, and with the ensuing feedback from tutors. The Mathematics support unit, along with the existing MathsBase system, provides significant additional assistance for those students requiring it. The skills-based tests introduced by Mathematics will ensure that students are learning or retaining essential skills required for Maths at all levels that they are expected to have on entry to the university. Mathematics and CS are the principal areas of concern. The small scale pilot initiatives run over the last three years in CS have helped understand the issues involved in effectively supporting students to step up to the nature of enquiry-led education, which in particular requires the at-risk students to work to understand complex subjects much more deeply than they did in school. More crucially, they need to appreciate this significant change from school. The Faculty is now planning a major investment across both Mathematics and CS, building on the experience gained in the past three years, to address these issues. The plan is to appoint a UT to coordinate a scheme of twice-weekly very small group (2-6 students) tutorials for students shown in the early weeks of the year to need it. The tutorials will be staffed partly by the UT, but also by Honours students who in the pilot schemes have proven themselves to be excellent role models for struggling students. The Faculty is developing plans for the provision of tailored PDP units to be used directly within Level 1 and 2 programmes. The materials are embedded within courses in order to encourage student take-up by the fractions of the cohort most likely to require it. Again, there is coordinated action at FoS level. The LTDF-funded Science Early Warning project is active and feeding names of students deemed at risk (from coordinated data on non-attendance - 123 students had attendances of less than 75% of their potential attendances) to the Science Faculties Support Unit (SFSU) and to advisers. The load has been 1 or 2 students per adviser. While it is too early to judge effectiveness, the contact has been a wake-up call for several students. Some resource will be required in 2008-9 to continue with this activity. An additional action this year has been the much earlier allocation of advisers to first-year students.


This is also a FoS initiative. The programme has matured over the past 3 years to a stage where the materials for the first and second-year workshops are well developed. Currently optional, plans are in place to encourage attendance through the module automatically appearing in a student’s curriculum on Websurf. The Faculties are supporting the programme through part-time administrative support and this will be ongoing and may have to be increased as participation rates increase.

International Recruitment

International UG numbers have shown a steady decline in FIMS from 2003-4. This is largely due to the decline in UG student numbers from China and the disadvantages associated with the four year Faculty entry system in some international markets. Direct entry to second year for well qualified A-level students has proved to be attractive in the Faculty of Engineering and IPS will promote direct entry to appropriate FIMS programmes more aggressively in markets with A-level systems e.g. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong. The presentation of the degrees will also be revised to highlight more coherent and restricted pathways which have relevance to the employment market. The Faculty is committed to the plans for a 3-year honours degree, and Mathematics, Statistics and Computing Science will all offer this option. This will certainly involve a more prescribed course in the students’ first year but that is consistent with what the international market is looking for. At PGT level, CS have introduced a range of “branded” Masters courses to significantly increase enrolment and other courses are being developed (see Section 4.3). The Faculty LTC is exploring the synergy between FIMS departments to develop a vibrant and responsive PGT programme making use of the expertise across all departments. In particular we need to develop mechanisms for facilitating cross-disciplinary programmes. The initial intake to GIC will not impact in any significant way on FIMS. The Faculty will continue to work enthusiastically with GIC to encourage marketing of the opportunities in FIMS subjects and to encourage them to include a Computing strand in the Science Foundation. The Dean has explored opportunities in China and Japan (travelling in December), including following up previous discussions with Sichuan University.