Principal Thoughts: UCEM’s bold new vision

Welcome to the latest edition of Ashley Wheaton’s ‘Principal Thoughts’. Having reflected on his first five years as Principal of UCEM in last month’s edition, Ashley looks ahead to the future and reveals UCEM’s new long-term vision as it embarks upon its centenary year.

‘To Be the Centre of Excellence for Built Environment Education.’

This is the new UCEM vision which I announced to staff at our Reading-based HQ on Monday (7 January), and will guide the institution during its next phase of development.

It’s a bold and hugely exciting vision which will underpin all of our work as we aim to deliver on this aspiration and be known for it across the higher education sector.

Looking back

Before I delve into further detail about UCEM’s new vision, it’s worth briefly evaluating our last vision statement – ‘to become the leading, vocational online university’.

The strategy, devised in 2013, was heavily influenced by our gaining of taught degree awarding powers (TDAP) in 2012 which served as a catalyst for change, most significantly in paving the way for the institution to become a fully independent university.

This five-year strategy has largely been realised whilst remaining steadfastly true to our Core Purpose which is: ‘to provide accessible, relevant and cost-effective education which enhances careers, increases professionalism and leads to a better Built Environment’.

During this time, our student numbers have doubled, our academic excellence has been endorsed through formal monitoring by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and Ofsted, and our aspirations for full independence have been realised.

It is on this foundation and position of strength that we can look forward and set a long-term vision for UCEM’s future.

Centre of Excellence (CX)

Our new vision was revealed during the official launch of our centenary year – a fitting time to hypothesize and plan for what the next 100 years may hold.

The vision is represented by the letters ‘CX’, standing for ‘Centre of Excellence’. CX also equals 110 in Roman numerals, the significance of which is that we will put in place a 10-year business plan, outlining the first part of our journey towards being ‘the Centre of Excellence for Built Environment Education’ taking us to UCEM’s 110th year.

What does the vision mean?

There will be a focus on providing a wider range of programmes which span the entire breadth of the Built Environment. If we wish to become the Centre of Excellence for the sector, our programmes will have to include all facets of the Built Environment. Subject areas such as Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering will be added over time to our existing suite of programmes.

The depth of programme levels we provide will also be extended. There will be an increased emphasis on our programmes at Further Education levels and in the long-term, we want to also be offering research degrees and doctorates.

Increasing the breadth and depth of our programmes is key for UCEM to cater for anyone who wants to study a Built Environment discipline and is the cornerstone upon which we can build to become a recognised Centre of Excellence. We will be working towards UCEM being recognised as the place to go for anyone wishing to study in the Built Environment.

It is a hugely ambitious vision but I am confident that it is also attainable and we will be relentless in seeking to become the Centre of Excellence for Built Environment Education.

When we announced our vision to become the leading, vocational online university five years ago, there was of course some speculation about whether we could achieve this, but I would challenge anyone to name me another institution with a greater stake to this claim now.

In 10 years’ time, I hope we can be just as bullish about the steps we have made toward achievement of our new vision.

What about online learning?

A major part of our previous vision statement was the online aspect. More than anything else, this has developed beyond all prior recognition and our virtual learning environment (VLE) continues to lead the way in supporting our online education model.

Conversely, just when we were able to say that our learning delivery was wholly online, we started offering apprenticeships which required an element of face-to-face teaching. We have had to adapt our learning delivery to fit with the apprenticeships agenda and it is this flexible approach to delivery methods which will be considered for future programmes we offer.

Online learning will remain at the heart of our pedagogical approach but, in order to become the Centre of Excellence we aspire to be, we will consider hybrid teaching models with an adjunctive focus on a face-to-face approach where appropriate.

The new vision is entirely consistent with our core purpose which remains the same and continues to drive everything we do.

Next steps

The new strategy is due to officially begin on 1 August, 2019, with detailed planning currently underway but I can reveal the two key themes behind the strategy.

The first is impact. This theme encompasses the positive impact we seek to have on student outcomes, student satisfaction and widening participation.

The second theme is influence which conveys the positive effect we wish to have on the Built Environment and Higher Education sectors through industry relationships, education policy lobbying, collaborative relationships and the depth and breadth of our programme offerings.

As we quite rightly reflect upon our first centenary, it is just as important to focus on the next part of our journey and ensure we will have an even greater impact over the next 100 years.

I hope our new vision excites you just as much as it does me and I look forward to leading this proud institution during the next part of its history to support even more people within the Built Environment.

At UCEM, we are committed to contributing to a better Built Environment sector through excellence in online education. We deliver approved apprenticeship programmes, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. For more information take a look at our Study With UCEM page.

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