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Behind the HE headlines is one key question – the purpose of universities

The past week’s higher education news demonstrates that there are certain expectations of universities that policymakers, HE leaders and the Augar review are expected to address, says Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of the Engineering Professors’ Council and Chief Executive of outreach organisation Push .

30 VCs sign new Civic University Agreement

Leaders of thirty universities have signed a Civic University Agreement, reaffirming their institution's commitment to their local communities by pledging to put the economy and quality of life in their home towns and cities at the top of their list of priorities.

How to improve the student experience -- ask the students themselves

Jenny Shaw , Student Experience Director at Unite Students, draws lessons on the higher education sector's efforts to improve the student experience from a week of HE news and views.

HEi-think: Why universities should support two year degrees

From this September, students will be able to opt to study an accelerated two year degree, as opposed to a traditional three year course. Professor Malcolm Todd, Provost (Academic) at the University of Derby, discusses why universities should consider the change in legislation and look to offer accelerated degrees.

Research England names KEF pilot institutions

Research England has selected 21 English universities to take part in a pilot Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), which will run between February and May 2019.

HEi-think: Study shows value for money is not students' top priority

Ross Renton, Pro Vice Chancellor Students, and Sophie Williams, Students' Union Chief Executive, both at the University of Worcester, consider the implications of the findings of a new survey on students' views on the Teaching Excellence Framework. 

 

An informal consortium of students’ unions has produced what they are describing as the UK’s largest research project to date on students’ views of the Teaching Excellence Framework metrics. The report from Trendence UK gathers the views of almost 9,000 full-time undergraduate and post graduate students in 123 institutions. Notably there are no mentions of the more formal consortium, the National Union of Students or any work they may have carried out in this area.

For most universities there will be very few surprises in the outcomes of the research, particularly where there already exists a close relationship between the institution, students and Students’ Union. Within the University of Worcester, we carried out an exercise last year to gather the views of students and staff on what they think is excellent teaching, which helped to inform our own TEF submission. 

Most of the students surveyed in this new research supported the idea of an exercise that encourages excellence in teaching . Perhaps this would also be the case if we asked this question of the public? Universities should seriously consider what they need to do in response to student’s belief identified in the study that the TEF should also consider IT and library resources. This could easily be captured in future versions of the TEF from
resource spend data or targeted questions within the NSS.

Outcomes, and specifically value for money, have been a key feature of the rhetoric surrounding the new higher education landscape from both the media and the Government. What they might find surprising is that employability - one of the few easily measurable outcomes - is at the bottom of the list of factors that demonstrate a university has excellent teaching. What is often missed is the value students place on having access to high quality staff.  This study supports that opinion with staffing being the number one factor to measure quality, from students' point of view. We recognise this opinion from our own students at Worcester, where teaching and contact with teachers is what students expect and value most. 

It is also interesting to see that students don’t consider retention and progression data as relevant as we might perhaps expect. This may be due to some students believing that this is also the responsibility of the individual to engage and participate rather than the just the University. Students are sometimes the ones who are most critical of their peers failing to engage, whilst staff attempt to retain students as much as possible.

To state the obvious, no one wants a Bronze TEF rating! Fundamentally, as much as no university wants a Bronze, students also don’t want to be at a Bronze institution. What many of us may not have predicted is that 11 per cent of students from an ethnic minority background say that they would have reconsidered applying to their university if it had been rated Gold. Why would a Gold rating put students off applying? It would be disastrous if such a large number of students were to be deterred either through self-doubt or concerns about the perceived culture of a ‘Gold’ institution. The Office for Students needs to seriously consider what can be done to prevent this potential issue by encouraging collaboration between institutions with initiatives such as the National Collaborative Outreach Programme.

The Government should be interested to learn that students have a more nuanced understanding of the relationship they have with their University. It is evident that ‘Value for Money’ is not the main focus of the relationship. The Government wanted the TEF to provide a ‘clear signal to students’ about ‘value for money and
potential employment outcomes’. This report signals that our students may have other priorities that need to be considered.

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