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Professor Malcolm Todd, Deputy Vice-Chancellor/Provost (academic and student experience) at the University of Derby, comments on what he sees as the most significant higher education news and opinions making headlines in the first week of 2020.
Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, introduces the launch of Year Three of UUKi's Go International: Stand Out campaign, calling on employers to promote the value of international experience.
University leaders have written to the University and College Union to formally outline their commitment to continuing to work with UCU to deliver long-term reform of the Universities Superannuation Scheme. The move comes as UCU members at 60 universities begin strike action in disputes over both pensions and pay.
A platform providing a single access point for businesses to university expertise and funding opportunities has been further developed by the National Centre for Universities and Business, Research England, and UK Research and Innovation, to help 'smart match' business and industry with higher education institutions, in a bid to boost R&D collaboration. Shivaun Meehan, Head of Communications at the NCUB, outlines the latest features of Konfer.
Eight out of 10 postgraduate students taking a taught course in the UK report continued satisfaction with the experience over a five-year period.But a survey of more than 70,000 postgraduates across 85 higher education institutions who responded to the Advance HE Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) highlights for the first time areas where institutions could do better still to boost satisfaction levels.
Universities will be drilling down into the detail of the latest National Student Survey results and weighing up the impact they are likely to have on the Teaching Excellence Framework, says Dr Mike Hamlyn, Director Academic Enhancement at Staffordshire University.
The most recent National Student Survey results show that the average score for overall satisfaction has remained high across the sector - with 86 per cent of students saying that they are happy with their course. This is the same percentage as for the last two years.
As a sector then, the message is that teaching quality (at least as measured by NSS) would appear to be in good health, which might jar slightly with comments last year from universities and science minister Jo Johnson, who talked about instances of lamentable teaching in universities.
When we look across the results for different institutions, then we start to see some degree of difference, but the actual spread of results is not actually that great. Very few universities have an overall satisfaction score of less than 80 per cent, and just over 20 score above 90 per cent.
This has some implications for the forthcoming Teaching Excellence framework (TEF).
Universities will become ever more focussed on gaining a high score in NSS, and on ensuring that student experience is at the forefront of thinking in course teams so that their institutions continue to achieve high NSS scores. Hence in future iterations of TEF, those universities that perform well in NSS as well as against other metrics might be able to apply to raise their fees.
However, with such a clustering of results and limited differentiation between many universities, it could be iniquitous to make judgements about quality in TEF when the actual differences are so small. The use of three years of data in TEF might ameliorate this slightly, so that those universities who can show consistently high satisfaction, or can demonstrate continually improving results will be able to create a narrative around their approaches to proving high quality learning and teaching.
So to perform well in NSS and possibly TEF, an approach that universities could take would be to look at the correlation between the overall satisfaction figure and the various other sections on the survey.
When considering universities’ results this year, then the highest correlation between overall satisfaction and other areas of the survey is seen to be with “organisation and management”. So if students feel that the timetable works for them, that changes in the course or teaching are communicated effectively and where the course is well organised then they will be those who are most satisfied overall. The lowest correlations are between overall satisfaction and assessment and feedback, and learning resources. Universities may then choose to focus on getting courses well organised as this could be the way to gaining greater overall NSS success.
TEF, however, will draw on the results for: the teaching on my course; assessment and feedback, and academic support. A focus just on areas of high correlation may pay dividends in overall satisfaction, but not in the broader metrics to be used in TEF.
In terms of behaviours within institutions, the actual course or subject level results are of more use than the overall score: firstly, through providing feedback to course teams, and also in providing information to prospective students through KIS and Unistats. If, in future years, TEF moves to being more subject or discipline then NSS results at this lower level of aggregation will become ever more important.
It’s important to remember though that the latest NSS figures are not just a set of performance metrics. As well as providing course teams with some really useful feedback, this is a reaffirmation that vast majority of the students in the UK are satisfied with their university experience.
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