University of Suffolk set to benefit from share of £2.8 million to develop innovations in learning and teaching

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has announced the projects it will be supporting from a broad range of higher education institutions and further education colleges across England, including from the University of Suffolk.

Sixty-seven universities and colleges were awarded up to £50,000 each from the Catalyst Fund to develop and evaluate innovations in learning and teaching, at either undergraduate or postgraduate taught level, working with specific cohorts of students. Projects will run for a period of 18 months and active student engagement is a key aspect in all projects. The projects address a wide variety of themes including: learning analytics, interdisciplinary learning, academic and employability skills, peer-assisted learning, assessment and student co-creation of learning resources.

The University of Suffolk’s project is called placementPAL (Peer Assisted Learning). The aim of this project is to enhance students’ effective and confident transition into work placements through timely and innovative ‘scaffolding’ of students’ learning. The project offers an exciting opportunity to deepen understanding of the ways in which students prepare for, and learn on placement, and how they learn to participate effectively in work-based contexts. The University will use this understanding to develop a sustainable web app called placementPAL. The app will deploy digital smartphone technologies to help students derive the greatest value from their work experiences.

Associate Professor and Quality Enhancement Manager at the University of Suffolk, Dr Christine Smith, said “We are delighted and excited to have this cross-institutional opportunity to look closely with our students at their transition into work placements and to explore an innovative way to better support those important opportunities for students to prepare for the world of work through the use of contemporary digital technology. We can anticipate the outputs of the project being of interest to all and any HE programmes/courses that feature a work placement element.”

“Transition from campus to practice placements can be quite stressful experiences for students. The app will act as an advanced aide-memoire to flexibly scaffold the application of subject knowledge, giving students confidence such as in using professional vocabulary, dealing with complex work problems, and nurturing a sense of legitimate participation in work-based practices.”

Dissemination of the project’s findings will include an open event, peer-reviewed journal articles and participation in HEFCE evaluation and dissemination activities.
A total of 139 bids were assessed, with advice from the Higher Education Academy, Jisc, and student representation, to ensure the selected projects would fully engage students in the innovation activities as leaders and co-creators. Projects were also chosen on the basis of demonstrating a clear and robust approach to project management, methodology and evaluation. HEFCE will work with the projects to support their networking, evaluation and dissemination, so that the innovations and lessons learnt are shared with other providers across the whole higher education sector.

HEFCE’s Chief Executive, Madeleine Atkins, said “We were delighted by the level of interest from universities and colleges in developing new ways of working and are pleased to be funding such an exciting range of learning and teaching innovations. We look forward to working with the project organisations to share the lessons across the sector.”

PlacementPAL is a joint project between the Suffolk Business School and the Department Of Health Sciences.

The project is recruiting a Research Assistant to help support the project, the deadline for applications for which is Thursday 15 December, 12:00. For more information, and to apply, please visit the University of Suffolk ‘Work at Suffolk’ page.


  • The projects have been funded by HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund, which aims to drive innovation in the higher education sector, enhance excellence and efficiency in higher education, and support innovative solutions. The projects reported here are funded under Call A of the ‘Innovations in learning and teaching, and addressing barriers to student success’ strand of the fund, detailed in HEFCE Circular letter 20/2016.
  • Funded projects.

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