Tag Archives: Part I


Part I study was a brief feature at the start and end of subtext’s academic year. In issue 168, we reported on a serious proposal to drastically limit the amount of time that students spend on minor subjects, which would impact greatly on departmental budgets and workloads. If implemented, it would require a 2019 start. We returned to the topic in issue 180, where we reported on the abolition of minor talks to new students. A move in a certain direction? We’ll look into it.



In subtext 168, we reported on ‘A proposal for radical improvement’, drafted by the Dean for Academic Quality. The subtext collective postulated at the time that the implementation of those proposals could have meant the end of Part One at Lancaster. News reaches subtext of another proposal – well, an instruction – from the Dean for Academic Quality that could have further implications for Part One. This concerns Welcome Week activities, whereby it is intended that students will spend an increased amount of time during Welcome Week in their major department. The purpose of this is to help the new students to engage with their academic disciplines at an early stage, so that they can feel more embedded in their academic community. This is seen to be of vital importance, contributing significantly towards high student satisfaction, performance and retention.

To facilitate this bonding experience all minor taster talks, normally delivered on Tuesday of Welcome Week, are to be scrapped. This, we are told, is an idea which has found widespread support throughout the University among academics, professional service staff and the Students’ Union, although subtext is not aware of any consultation fora where this has been discussed.

Minor talks are to go online. Details are sketchy at the moment but subtext understands that the plan is to set up a repository for information about every minor option across the university. This will probably have a standard template as a ‘front page’ for each option, and departments can then add links to anything else they want, which could include readings, handouts, videos etc. It has been made clear to departments that no additional money will be available to facilitate this.

Information for students about how to access this repository will be given to them in their welcome packs, and they will be encouraged to access them before they arrive, with further ‘prompts’ by their major departments when they get here. Let’s hope that these prompts aren’t used to apply pressure to students to choose a particular minor, otherwise the days of Marketing students choosing Criminology or Gender and Women’s Studies as their alternative for Part One may be numbered.

As we pointed out in our initial coverage, a number of departments or degree schemes with small student numbers are very dependent on the revenue that Part One minor students provide. Quite a number of departments welcome face-to-face interaction with potential Part One students and see it as a good recruitment opportunity. Anything that threatens such arrangements should be considered very carefully.

The fact that this proposal apparently emanated from the working group charged with looking at radical improvement set alarm bells off in the warehouse regarding ulterior motives i.e. the dismantling of Part One by the back door. Other wiser heads point out that such joined-up thinking is not normally how the University operates and we should take the proposal for what it is – an attempt to foster greater identification with the students major department and aid retention. Thoughts and letters to the usual address.


Are the days of Part I at Lancaster as we know it numbered? The paper ‘A proposal for radical improvement’, drafted in July 2017 by the Dean for Academic Quality and recently seen by subtext, would have required very rapid change to be implemented in time for an October 2019 start. The response from many departmental heads of teaching was not positive – ‘it can’t be done!’ said one – and the whole matter has gone out to a working group.

The basic idea is easy to state. In place of three Part I subject options (which in faculties other than FASS usually means two subjects in your major and one in your minor), the student would study:

– Only major courses in the first ‘core’ term; then

– A mix of major and minor courses (usually one-third major for a single honours student) in the second ‘exploratory’ term; then

– Back to your major subject for the third ‘bridging’ term.

Final assessment of courses would take place at the start of the following term, so there would be no end-of-year examinations, except for the third term’s courses which would be assessed by coursework. The emphasis moves towards the programme, and away from the department or the module. This approach to assessment, moving away from the end-of-year exam as main arbiter of success, shows the influence of recent educational research and the team in OED.

So could it work? In terms of content, staffing and timetabling, the main change would see first years studying just their major in the first term, in order to help them ‘become inducted and assimilated into their academic disciplines at an early stage, as well as beginning to learn some of the most important material for their degrees’ and ‘speed up progress towards a feeling of belonging to students’ academic disciplines, programmes and departments.’ This frontloading of core content is contentious. For many of our programmes, the deep learning occurs in the second term, after everyone is hopefully settled in, but this approach may no longer be feasible under the new proposals. Some departments have suggested that professional accreditation would not be possible under the new system.

The description of second term options envisages an ‘anything goes’ mix. There might be non-standard options in a student’s own discipline, alongside courses designed to broaden the horizons (Physics’ former Part I in ‘The Universe as an Art’ is mentioned approvingly) and double-weighted ‘switching modules’, designed specifically to enable those thinking of ‘switching’ to move into that subject more or less straight away, so their third term courses could be in their new subject.

For departments that currently offer minor-only Part I courses, this might not be too great an increase in workload, but for departments that currently mix major and minor students together, it could represent a significant hike . . . unless of course your current major class is so big that you’re on the verge of double teaching anyway, in which case, so the thinking goes, why not offer two slightly different streams?

It’s not entirely clear how combined honours degree schemes – which can currently be run efficiently with relatively small numbers due to the sharing of modules with single honours students – would fit into the new model, especially during the core term. Natural Sciences gets mentioned, as a consortial scheme for which ‘programme teams have little flexibility and find their students’ requirements can be subservient to those of departments,’ but there’s no mention of how Natural Sciences could fit into the new Part I structure.

Methods of assessment and concerns over timetabling aside, the end result might turn out to be, well, not entirely dissimilar to the educational experience at several other universities. A traditional course at a redbrick might include 75% of compulsory courses in the first year, alongside a variety of options, including for most students the opportunity to study courses in other departments. Lancaster’s approach to the first year, by contrast, is now rare in England and Wales. Scotland has always done things differently of course.

When you look beyond the thoughtful proposals on teaching styles and assessment methods, these ‘radical’ proposals for our Part I start to look rather like what everyone else is doing. Maybe the truly radical option would be to keep Part I largely as it is?


As well as the implications for departmental workloads, these proposals also carry major financial implications that seemingly haven’t figured in any of the plans. Departments or degree schemes with small student numbers are very dependent on the revenue that Part I minor students provide. DeLC and Sociology, for example, might not survive the loss of income, nor would they survive losing the students who opt to switch into their degrees after enjoying minoring their subject during Part I. It is proposed that the Senate be consulted on the implementation of these changes at its next meeting – not whether it should happen or not, we hasten to add, but the implementation.

There are some very angry and upset members of staff in a number of departments. We have already reported on various departments being asked to slash their budgets (subtext 165), and a struggling degree scheme being berated and threatened with closure if things don’t turn around (subtext 167). Has the prospect of a mass exodus of smaller departments figured as an issue in the proposals, or, to be conspiratorial, is something being pre-empted here?