A new challenge
Yesterday was the last day of my job as Programme Leader for the BA Design. As from the 1st September I take over as Head of Department. It’s been a long, emotional, exhausting and fun journey. I’ve been running the Programme for 10 years and I couldn’t be more proud of what our students and staff team have achieved.
The last couple of months have been a bit of a roller coaster; Our finalists finished their exams and tutors had the pleasure of watching them present challenging, creative and jaw dropping work. The collective effort that goes towards their final projects is remarkable. It’s a time for staff to stop pushing and questioning in order to enjoy and celebrate the complex intricacies of their students projects and learning.
I’ve had the privilege to work with a team of tutors and technical staff that have worked tirelessly to produce the best educational experience available. We continually challenge our understanding and perception of design, whilst demanding a level of commitment and ambition from our students that is rare to find in any industry or educational establishment. We do this because we care. We care about design. We care about education. We care about our students and their futures.
I’m stepping down at a point where the Programme couldn’t be in better shape, last month the Guardian released their 2016 university league table, and we came TOP! Last week the National Student Survey was announced and we have the most ‘satisfied’ students in London and the third most satisfied in the country. Being named top in a sector that is highly competitive and over-subscribed, at a time when league tables have a tangible effect on the decisions young people make, is both beneficial (in terms of recruitment) and rewarding (in terms of acknowledgment of a decades worth of hard work). In fact it’s awesome.
The most challenging thing about all those league tables, is my disliking and distrust of league tables in general. I think they’ve been fundamental to the degredation of educational experience in schools. They belong to a world that I don’t trust or care for. But, my god, it felt good this time. This tension can only be reconciled by trying to keep myself in check by highlighting a few principles that have led to our top slot:
1: BE AMBITIOUS
When describing the aims and intentions of our course, many people comment, “that sounds like an MA” or “isn’t that more MA level”. I say; bullshit. Demand the highest level possible from your students, never underestimate their ability, transform yourself, your students and your discipline.
2: CONSTANT EVOLUTION
The key to creating a good programme is to constantly assess and reassess the content, context and delivery. Every year we look at briefs, lectures, teaching and assessment practices to see if we can improve them. We see the programme as a live experiment, where staff and students are co-investigating the nature and future of design practice.
3. BUILD A CULTURE
You need to build a culture around a programme. People learn best when they feel part of something — it’s important to share a language, culture, ideas and practice.
4. FOSTER A COMMUNITY
Be nice, be positive. Building a community ensures that students support, push and critique each other. A strong community gives a safety net, an identity, a mission.
5. PLURALITY AND DIVERSITY
Design is a broad church, be rigorous, but not exclusive. Demand excellence, but don’t think your way is the only. ALWAYS BE SUB-DOGMATIC.