Cultural Change

Opinion is divided over who first coined the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  Whoever it was, they were right.  Whilst strategies point organisations in a particular direction they do not, in and of themselves, move them forward.  Only cultural change does that.  

Over the last 15 years Heriot-Watt has undergone a cultural change more far-reaching than any in its history.  We have become an international University.

Of course Heriot-Watt has always prided itself in being global in its orientation and ambition. Since the time of the granting of the Royal Charter in 1966 we have been recognised internationally for the quality and impact of our research.  We have built an international network of partners through which degree programmes – most notably the Edinburgh Business School MBA – have been delivered. 

However this has not been universally true of all our activities; particularly our education. In matters of curriculum, approaches to teaching and assessment for example, we were proudly (and unapologetically) UK-centric in all that we did.

The opening of new campuses in Dubai (2005) and Malaysia (2012) challenged that thinking and marked the beginning of a deep and lasting cultural change in the University.  By 2015 a QAA external review team commended the University in the following terms,

“Culture of internationalisation – the University’s global ethos is embedded in the institutional culture and operational processes, and, therefore, is recognised as part of everyday practice by staff and students. There is a genuine and considered approach to creating an international experience for all students and staff.”


QAA Scotland, ELIR Outcome Report, March 2015

Strategy 2025 reaffirms our commitment to that cultural change.

How then, will we ensure that this change transforms all our areas of activity, and specifically, our education?  What direction will our learning and teaching be taking over the next seven years? 

Inspiring Learning

Our new Learning and Teaching Strategy 2018-2025 sets the direction for the next stage in our journey.

Its vision is simple – ‘Inspiring Learning’. Its core content relates to providing an enriching and effective learning experience which includes the development of ‘learning to learn’ capabilities.

Delivering the Learning and Teaching Strategy

The Heriot-Watt graduate, and the four Heriot-Watt Graduate Attributes, lie at the centre of the Strategy. These Attributes – Specialist, Creative, Professional and Global – represent the distinctive qualities and skills of the HWU graduate, which all students have the opportunity to acquire during their studies with us.  

These qualities and skills are not only subject-based. They include intercultural intelligence, personal development and, critically, the skills around learning to learn.

In order to deliver the new Strategy we will review and revise our curriculum, our approaches to teaching and our assessment practices.

Curriculum: we will build a curriculum framework within which disciplines deliver subject-specific content which is not only research-informed and professionally orientated, but also internationally relevant and contextually nuanced – i.e. international – in new ways. 

Approaches to Teaching: we will transform our approaches to teaching, focusing on those which explicitly support student learning. We want to offer a learning environment which inspires both students and staff to be creative, deploying new technologies and the results of the latest educational research in shaping practice.

Assessment: we will use assessment practices which enable students to demonstrate, in the context of their programmes, their achievement of learning outcomes including the HWU Graduate Attributes and ‘learning to learn’ capabilities.

Success hinges not only on the facilities and support we offer to staff and students, but also on our willingness and ability to collaborate and share experience with one another across our international community.  It is an exciting time in our University’s history, a time when, together, we can shape the way in which we pursue our core educational purpose.

Through ‘Inspiring Learning’ we remain true to the ancient belief that education (at its best) is about the kindling of a flame rather than the filling of a vessel.

Professor John W Sawkins

Deputy Principal (Learning and Teaching)

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