Degrees of value depend on student engagement
In a recent post Chris Millward, Director for Policy at the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), summarised the findings and recommendations of a Which? report into Higher Education, placing it within the context of the HEFCEs own work. Millward begins with a note of caution, contrasting the reports “relatively small” sample size (the undergraduate survey, conducted by YouthSight, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 1023 first and second year undergraduates online) to the National Student Survey (NSS), which last year received 320,000 responses of which 86% reported they were satisfied or strongly satisfied with their course. Even this figure, Millward concedes, still “leaves a significant minority who weren’t satisfied” and that while “there is good work going on…there is room for improvement”.
|“A degree of value: value for money from the student perspective” – Which? report into Higher EducationThree areas of concern:
So, what’s HEFCE doing?
“The thrust of the report’s recommendations” Millward writes, “dovetails neatly with the work we’ve done so far on this front, and which we are planning to do in the future.” So what might this work be? Millward begins with reference to a review of the provision of information about higher education that the HEFCE is currently undertaking. The review will report on what information is currently provided by institutions (graduate salary, job prospects, course delivery etc.) and how this provision can be improved. As noted by Millard, this corresponds with the first of the Which? reports recommendations, that “better information” be made available “to help people make an informed choice”. Whilst such a recommendation may seem highly logical (a more informed individual makes a more informed decision) research into prospective students’ decision-making behaviour doesn’t present such a clear picture. Students’ decisions regarding their future studies, so the report states, cannot be assumed to result from “a systematic analysis of all the information available” but must be understood as “complex, personal and nuanced, involving different types of information, messengers and influences over a long time”. Furthermore, “greater amounts of information [does] not necessarily mean that people will be better informed or be able to make better decisions.” The solution therefore isn’t more information, but relevant information located in places that prospective students will access.
In regards to the second recommendation, that of improved consumer protection, Millward notes that the HEFCE “recently held roundtable discussions to explore what more can be done to protect students in the event of course closure or provider failure”. These are complex issues, Millward continues, which “cannot all be resolved without further legislation”.
So what of the third recommendation, the Which? reports call for improved regulation? Millward reiterates the HEFCEs commitment (indeed, legal requirement) to ensure quality across higher education. Whilst not as forthcoming with specifics as the report, Millward does state the need to “step back and ask what quality assessment should look like over the next decade” through consultation with “students, the higher education sector, and others”.
Millward’s concluding remarks reflect on the “[n]otions of consumerism” that “understandably underpin the Which? report”. Whilst “consumer protection issues”, he writes, are an important factor when determining “value”, “we must not lose sight of the importance of student engagement”. Students are “partners, ‘co-producers’, in their education” and when encouraged, challenged and actively collaborated with “as part of a vibrant academic community” the greater likelihood that that experience be judged positively and perceived to be of “value for money”.