The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
As part of their commitment to building a Hydro Nation (Scottish Government, 2015), Scottish Water approached the Open University in Scotland (OUiS) with a request to establish a bridging qualification from an Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Water Operations from Glasgow Clyde College, a qualification held by many of their employees, to an MSc in Water and Enviromental Management at Heriot-Watt university. Their vision was that this partnership would assist professionals in the water industry to transition more readily from further education qualifications to honours and masters level study. Their hope was that this oportunitiy would help more employees to become more qualified leading to better performance.
The project took two years from initial conception to launching in February 2015 and the first cohort of students began their Open University (OU) study in October 2015. The substantial contribution of Jackie Baker, as Business Development Unit (BDU) manager in the OUiS, in all aspects of the formation of this strategic partnership and subsequent initial support of Scottish Water employees as OU students is greatfully acknowledged.
This project aimed to work with the first cohort of Scottish Water employees who expressed an interest in the partnership, providing a co-inquiry platform to explore how better to support them in the transition from HN study to HE study: how to flourish and realise the aspiration of participation in higher education, both in terms of well-being and enjoyment of the subjects being studied.
At the outset, it was hoped that the project would contribute to development of a revised model of employer engagement in the OUiS including inviting staff from different areas across the OUiS - academic, student support, BDU, Associate Lecturer – and also students to engage in joint scholarship work. Since the start of the project, however, alongside organisational change, the OUiS has seen considerable changes in staffing, notably in the directorate team and in the BDU and some links with academic staff have not yet been reestablished within the reorganisation. Working with Scottish Water to discuss the outcomes of this project, in line with redefined strategic objectives (The Open University, 2018), is thus a recommendation of this project rather than an outcome, as originally hoped, (Raes et al, 2011; Schein, 2013), and constitutes a legitimate goal adjustment giving all stakeholders an opportunity to reflect and readjust rather than a ‘drifting goal’, (Kim and Anderson, 1998).
In reflecting this project, (Schön, 1991), it is not surprising that not all of the original aims were met, as the nature of this ‘real world’ research became increasingly and surprisingly “messy”, (Robson, 2002, p.4). The research was positioned against a backdrop substantial institutional change: Group Tuition policy implementation and Student Services alignment as part of the Students First transformation strategy, (The Open University, 2014). Various difficulties in implementation relating to this project were experienced and noted briefly in this report, (Oakland & Tanner, 2004).
The project has been successful in as far as we have gained deeper understanding of the experience of the transition from HNC study to OU study, as a Scottish Water employee. It has focussed on one particular workplace within the strategic partnership in Scotland, but it has highlighted some areas for development in employer engagement generally across the university.