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Grand Challenges

Re-forming each year, the University of Exeter’s Grand Challenges team of professional services, academic leads, postgraduate teaching assistants and student interns work collaboratively to deliver an annual week-long programme. The team brings together people with complementary expertise, knowledge and skills, and are agile, adapting quickly to changing resourcing levels, partnership possibilities and student interest.
University of Exeter

The University of Exeter’s Grand Challenges (GC) team draws together people with complementary expertise to facilitate interdisciplinary, research-based, enquiry-led learning, where students can explore ‘wicked’ problems, co-create outputs and present them as solutions while developing their employability. The team is re-formed on an annual basis; professional services, the academic sponsor and many of the academic leads are constant. There is some fluidity in the academic leads, postgraduate teaching assistants (PTAs) and interns, influencing how GC runs each year. The team varies in size over the annual cycle, growing from less than 10 to 50, depending on the number of Challenges running. Through our collaborative approach, staff learn from each other and innovate, keeping the programme fresh. Professional services bring management and employability skills, which empower others.

Academics bring research expertise, networks and the latest discourse on inspirational topics. PTAs bring facilitation and research skills, and interns bring experiences of being participants and student perspectives. In order to develop skilled graduates, the team creates a safe space that allows students to be creative, take risks and follow their passions. The team has created a programme that complements HE study with the focus on exploration and learning, not on obtaining grades, so that participants can make a meaningful difference in the world. The team has designed and developed GC and, through a collaborative approach, it demonstrates a reach that is interdisciplinary and transcends Exeter. Other institutions have used the model, replicated and adapted it. The team has the skills and agency to translate strategy into outputs, which includes the Challenges themselves, policy change within the institution, publications, research grants collaborating with universities globally, work within the local community, and new modules and programmes at Exeter, nationally and globally.

The teams’ learning from these outputs feeds back into the design of GC, and teaching beyond the academic leads. The GC team has changed ways of thinking about what teaching and learning is and can be, and changed the way that educators globally approach their teaching – to be student-led, facilitative and inspirational. It has changed the way students are engaged with and listened to, and given them power to lead their own education.

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