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The University of Hull’s approach to educational gain

  • 23 January 2024
  • By Becky Huxley-Binns, Graham Scott and Mike Ewen

In a previous HEPI blog, it was reported in that “it appears that just five providers … received ‘outstanding’ ratings across all three features of educational gain: SO4 – a provider’s own articulation of the gains it intends its students to achieve, SO5 – its approach to supporting these educational gains, and SO6 – evidence of the gains achieved by the provider’s students.” 

At the University of Hull, we were delighted to receive an outstanding rating for SO4, SO5 and SO6 (and although we received a Silver for the student outcomes aspect, we were thrilled to receive a Gold award overall). 

In early 2019, the University of Hull launched Transforming Programmes, an institution-wide curriculum review across our undergraduate and postgraduate taught programmes.  At the heart of Transforming Programmes is an innovative and unique Competence Framework, developed by the University’s Teaching Excellence Academy. Competence-based higher education responds to many global needs. It instils a commitment to lifelong learning and professional and personal development. It builds graduate identity and professional profiles. And it is inclusive to students with protected characteristics and those historically excluded from higher education.  

Our Competence Framework represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of educational gain, which we define as a student’s ability to demonstrate secure competence in: 

  • Knowledge Management, including sourcing, understanding, creating and communicating knowledge. 
  • Disciplinary and Professional Experience, using dialectic action and critical thought to address a real-world task or practice in context, working independently or as part of a team. 
  • Self-Awareness, which encompasses self-assessment and self-regulation in public and private domains, independently or through team working. 

Our Graduate Attributes circle the Competence Framework: 

The balance across these three elements may vary depending on the discipline and the requirements of validating, professional, statutory and regulatory bodies.  

We suggest that competence-based higher education is crucial to graduate success. It supports students to become confident in their ability to navigate uncertainty and to develop other essential human traits that cannot be automated, such as: 

  • complex problem solving;
  • flexibility; 
  • team working; 
  • compassionate leadership; 
  • ethical reasoning. 

A competence-based approach in higher education shifts the focus from what the student knows to what the student can do. Through curricula that exceed knowledge acquisition and encompass how each student reasons, behaves and self-regulates, a competence-based programme develops the whole student. This is how the Hull student makes educational gain.  

When the Office for Students published its Regulatory Advice on the Teaching Excellence Framework (RA22), there was scope for each provider to define and evidence educational gains for its own mix of students and courses. Some suggestions were made, which were greeted with delight at Hull, as the clear links between the OfS guidance and our Competence Framework were obvious.  

Providers could include a range of gains, which might include but need not be limited to: 

Academic development: such as gains relating to the development of subject knowledge as well as academic skills, for example critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem solving, academic writing, and research and referencing skills. 

Personal development: such as gains relating to the development of student resilience, motivation and confidence as well as soft skills, for example communication, presentation, time management, and networking and interpersonal skills. 

Work readiness: such as gains relating to the development of employability skills, for example teamwork, commercial awareness, leadership and influencing. 

All these gains, and more, are encompassed in our Competence Framework. Our provider and student submissions and the TEF panel findings are available online.  

We are now rolling out our equivalent to Periodic Review, at Hull called Developmental Engagement with Subjects. Two of our subject areas with provision that adopted Transforming Programmes in 2019 were reviewed in 2022-2023. We shall spare the blushes of the subject areas involved but suffice to say the student feedback to the panels confirmed that the competence-based approach is having a genuine and positive impact on students.  

Our students confirm that they recognise competencies are present and being developed in a coherent way throughout their programmes. They noted that the module structure was coherent and designed to support progression of learning and that this was particularly evident in the way modules link together, even where this is not consecutive. 

Competencies are measured through assessment, and students can articulate how their achievement of competencies is cumulative in design. Students can clearly articulate their subject Competence Framework and the supporting concept of the spiral curriculum and can describe how this will enhance their future employment. In particular, students value the opportunities offered within the curriculum and assessments to approach their subject in an authentic context and the skills this enables them to develop in readiness for life after university. As a university we are currently working with a number of partners, including the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), to share our approach and to help them adapt it to their own contexts. 

The HEPI blog mentioned above observed, “… it appears that educational gain is an opportunity for institutions to share the contribution their individual offer makes to a diverse sector.” This response is our attempt to do just that.

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  1. Albert Wright says:

    Very interesting initiative.

    Are other universities doing similar things?

  2. A tantalising article! While there are things in it to reflect most interests, the approach suggested is – for my money – unduly tilted towards an instrumental view of higher education and does rather little to do justice to the term ‘educational’ in its title.

    There are two mentions of critical thinking and the word ‘ethical’ appears once but the thrust is about ‘work readiness’, ‘competences’, self-regulation (against those horizons), and the inevitable ‘skills’. To be frank, if one was after a sophisticated adumbration of a higher education for (what is being termed in the literature as) ‘cognitive capitalism’ in a complex and interwoven age, this is surely it.

    Nothing here/no mention of ‘civic’, ‘citizenship’, UNESCO’s sustainability development goals, ecology, justice, peace, care, collectivity, otherness, transdisciplinarity … In short, the actual ‘educational’ gains are surely going to be highly limited on this conspectus?

    Forgive me, too, if I remain sceptical about the horizon of that ‘critical thought’ – one has to be doubtful here that students are going to be provided with the resources – cognitive, institutional, political, emotional, practical, personal – to be whistle-blowers in their chosen professions, ready to put themselves on the line in calling out malpractice and distorted systems.

    Ron Barnett (

  3. A really distinctive strategy and a point of differentiation? I am intrigued to discover how much technology underpins its delivery and implementation and how much it mirrors the approaches of SNHU and WGU in the US?

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