In 2019-2020 National Forum work around sectoral engagement changed radically from visiting institutions and meeting colleagues face-to-face either on campus or at various National Forum and other higher education gatherings, to Zoom calls and virtual connections and meetings. Fortunately, the National Forum approach to sectoral engagement begins, first and foremost, with building relationships. As many of us discovered regarding our work in our institutions and beyond, the commitment we had made to building strong relationships when we could meet face-to-face provided a substantial foundation for the maintenance and development of those relationships online.
Through our sectoral engagement, in academic year 2019-20 we heard a range of voices from across the sector. In the conversations that we have had over the year we learned a great deal about the experience and forms of enhancement of teaching and learning. Reflecting on our sectoral engagement we can identify important touchstones for our continuing work in partnership with the sector. These include the importance of context; during our conversations with the sector we hear about how the culture of the institution permeates all of its activity, as does the geographical location, the institutional mission, and the uniqueness of the staff and student cohorts. We are reminded that national approaches need to be sufficiently flexible and adaptable in order to accommodate local, institutional needs and priorities. Hand-in-hand with the importance of context is the interconnectedness of the sector and system, and the necessity for alignment, coherence and sustainability. In all our work, but particularly through sectoral engagement, we observe how institutions balance their individuality with the achievement of collaboration and coherence across the sector. We know that this can be a significant challenge for institutions, colleagues and students especially when resources and time are scarce. Indeed, this year, it may have seemed as though time was never as scarce, yet, we observed the immense determination and commitment of colleagues to provide the meaningful learning experiences for students which are integral to their success in higher education. These pedagogical efforts were matched wholeheartedly by the ways in which higher education staff, those who teach and all those who support learning, cared for their students during the extraordinary second half of academic year 2019-20. Staff across the sector demonstrated just how much they Value Ireland’s Teaching and Learning (VITAL). Despite the ongoing significant challenges in higher education, there is sense across the sector that there has never been a better time to articulate a shared declaration, and an agreed approach, to how we recognise and demonstrate the value of teaching and learning in Irish higher education. We look forward to continuing this VITAL work in partnership with higher education stakeholders, staff and students.