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In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .
The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.
Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.
Professor Cam Donaldson, Pro Vice Chancellor and Vice Principal (Research) and Yunus Chair in Social Business & Health at Glasgow Caledonian University, explains how his institution has put into practice a research strategy led by Sustainability Development Goals.
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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