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”. Continue reading

Engagement through partnership

Engagement through partnershipThe recently published Higher Education Academy (HEA) report by Mick Healey, Abbi Flint and Kathy Harrington entitled Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education (York: HEA, 2014) makes for very interesting reading.

In declaring that engaging “students and staff effectively as partners in learning and teaching is arguably one of the most important issues” facing 21st century Higher Education (HE), this report makes various references to the concept and case for partnership, the ability to develop this through learning communities, etc., as well as various concrete mechanisms through which this might be aided (including student charters, peer support, etc.).

Of particular interest are the arguments made in favour of involving students in curriculum and assessment design, with case studies offered under the following four headings:

  1. learning, teaching and assessment;
  2. subject-based research and enquiry;
  3. scholarship of teaching and learning; and
  4. curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy.

In sum, as the HEA points out: “Drawing together extensive UK and international scholarship and research to propose a new conceptual model for exploring the variety of understandings of students as partners in learning and teaching, this publication:

  • examines the motivations and rationales for staff and students engaging in partnership;
  • offers a pedagogical case for partnership;
  • identifies examples of strategic and sustainable practices of engaging students as partners in learning and teaching;
  • outlines how the development of partnership learning communities may guide and sustain practice in this area;
  • identifies tensions and challenges to partnership;
  • offers suggestions to individuals and institutions for addressing challenges and future work.”

It certainly gives us something worth thinking about, as well as acting upon, as we consider the potential inherent, as well as the progress already made, in terms of ‘students as partners’ in their learning and teaching. As the report points out, for this to be most effective and for it to reflect the evolving nature of HE and the relationships within it, this will require institution-wide approaches involving staff operating in academic departments, professional services, etc., working in active collaboration with both students and students’ unions.

HEFCE report compares A level success and degree attainment

hefce logoA recent HEFCE report follows 130,000 home A-level students who entered  university education in  2007-8. The report compares a number of factors which affect success at university, including: ethnicity, household income, state versus independent schooling, GCSE performance and overall school performance.  This current report builds on previous work and affirms the previous findings that, although students from independent schools are more likely to enter university with higher A- level grades than their state school counterparts, “that students with similar prior attainment from independent schools do consistently less well at the end of their degree studies than students from other schools and colleges” (p2).

Read the full report here. (2.7MB)

Value for money? Student perceptions

Every winter the Government sets out the annual funding for higher education in a letter to HEFCE. This letter outlines the funds that are available for allocation, alongside any government priorities. One of the priorities in the latest letter is that the sector makes greater progress in delivering efficiencies, as “students will rightly expect value for the fees they pay”.

A question arising from this is what do students define as value for money?

An insight is provided by a research project led by Dr Camille Kandiko from King’s College London. The project aimed to explore the views of students entering higher education in the UK in 2012-13, and to investigate their perceptions and expectations about the quality of their learning experience and the academic standards of their chosen programmes of study.

In regard to value for money, the report identified three criteria used by students:

Embodiment of value: Contact time
The primary way students referenced issues of quality and value in their degree was through contact time.

Tangible value: Resources
The resources the institution offered and what additional costs students faced were summarised as ‘what do you get for what you pay’.

Return on investment
The reputational value of a degree, their subject and that of the institution.

Defining and developing your approach to employability

Yvonne Hamblin (Employability Development Manager, Careers and Employability Centre), who inter alia manages the Loughborough Employability Award, has drawn our attention to a recent Higher Education Academy (HEA) publication entitled Defining and developing your approach to employability: a framework for higher education institutions by Doug Cole and Maureen Tibby.

As the Association of Graduate Careers and Advisory Services (AGCAS) reports: “This framework for employability has been developed following a summit delivered by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE). It provides a process for reflecting on and addressing employability provision in a systematic and holistic manner and can be adapted and used as appropriate. It seeks to stimulate and facilitate discussion and offer support to those addressing the challenge of embedding employability and engaging colleagues and stakeholders with this process. As employability is a university-wide responsibility, this resource has been designed to engage a diverse range of people and is deliberately concise to promote accessibility and encourage ownership and use.” Click here for more details.

new CEDE publication

HEA logoEntitled A national survey of UK HE STEM practitioners 2013, three Loughborough University colleagues – namely Melanie King, Claire Creaser and Janette Matthews – from the Centre for Engineering and Design Education (CEDE) have just published a report for the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

As the online summary regarding this report states: “This survey of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) practitioners, working within higher education in the UK, was conducted in the first quarter of 2013 and has provided insights into not only resources that are used within teaching but also resources that are used by staff to enhance their teaching practice”.

The authors argue that their survey “provided useful insights into four key areas – the resources that STEM practitioners in UK higher education bring into their teaching of students; the resources that are brought into the development of teaching practice; the nature of these resources and gaps in provision; and issues concerning teaching and the development of resources” [p.38]. Further information, including the report, is available online.

HEA report: "Engagement for enhancement"

Engagement for enhancementThe Higher Education Academy (HEA) report on the first year of a UK student engagement pilot project has just been published.

Based upon questions which are utilsed in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) – see Tips for NSS(E) Survey Administration for a previous related T&L Blog posting – this kind of survey differs from the National Student Survey (NSS) because it takes place early in the life of a student’s university studies rather than towards the end. Unlike the relatively passive NSS, which typically asks students to comment upon their experience, the NSSE is also very interested in students reflecting upon their own levels of engagement with their studies and perhaps changing their behaviour in the light of this process.

Written by the HEA’s Alex Buckley, and with a foreward by Mantz Yorke, this project report – entitled Engagement for enhancement: report of a UK survey pilot – draws upon evidence gathered from students at institutions such as the University of Bath, King’s College London, the University of Oxford, and the University of Warwick; in addition, there are case studies and useful points of learning from each of these participating institutions.

The NSSE is used widely around the world in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America; there is a growing sense that its relative utility may impact upon the future of the NSS which is itself being reviewed.

Further details regarding this report are available on the HEA website at Engagement for enhancement.

Robbins revisited

Robbins revisitedEarlier this week, the Social Market Foundation (SMF) published Robbins Revisited: Bigger and Better Higher Education, a new publication by the Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts. As the SMF points out, it is half a century since “Robbins published his ground-breaking report on the key aims and principles for the future of Higher Education. The report has shaped the policies of successive governments since 1963”.

The SMF goes on to say that Willetts’ pamphlet “explores how the Robbins Report influences Government policy today. Willetts sets out his vision for the Higher Education system. Demographic pressures and improved education standards in schools are likely to lead to further expansion of higher education, which a new sustainable and fair funding model enables. Willetts outlines reforms to ensure that high-quality and innovative teaching sits at the heart of what universities offer”.

The 50th anniversary of the Robbins report, and indeed Willetts’ pamphlet, has attracted comment from a number of quarters including those as diverse as Elizabeth Gibney’s Robbins: 50 years later in the Times Higher Education and Tom Bailey’s Remembering Robbins on the wonkhe: the home of higher education wonks blog. Some light reading for the weekend.

HEA announce publication following research into teaching excellence

HEA logoThe Higher Education Academy announced on 8th October that it is publishing the results of its research into teaching excellence.

The statement by the Chief Executive of the HEA, Prof Stephanie Marshall that “…an agreed definition of what constitutes teaching excellence would be very useful in the sector” seems innocuous enough but raises important questions about the generic versus the discipline specific nature of teaching and learning. Whilst the HEA research seems designed to create a framework of reference for us all to consider our teaching against, it is also vital that we as a sector are not drawn towards a notion that there is one model of good teaching. The local context is vital. This is made more important when we consider the second part of Professor Marshall’s statement, that “A framework for teaching excellence could have many functions. It could be used, for example, to inform reward and recognition schemes and promotional routes for staff who teach in higher education institutions.” This seems dangerous ground unless any nationally agreed framework for teaching excellence allows for local interpretation and discipline-specific flexibility. After all if we wanted to have a one-size-fits-all approach which allowed an outside agency to make swift judgements about the ability of a teacher to teach and of an institution to manage the learning of those it had responsibility for without fully taking into account the local context and the individual needs of the learner, we could always ask Ofsted!

To be fair, the report itself – a literature review of the evidence currently available – does recognise the need for different “conceptualisations” of teaching excellence and does make a plea for time to “experiment, imagine and innovate”. It also warns of the dangers around the use of “learning analytics” to make judgement about teaching excellence and student learning. As might be expected, the report also calls for more research to help create a “shared repertoire around teaching and teacher excellence”. However, as is often the case in the education sector, policy makers are often deaf to the nuances being advocated by the research and try instead for a simple solution which seems superficially to cover all situations but runs the risk of satisfying none. Read the report yourself and let us know what you think (download from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/Teaching_Excellence/TELR-final.pdf .)

Enhancing the student academic experience

Compendium of effective practice in higher education Volume 2 Compendium of effective practice in higher education

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) has just published the second volume in what is fast becoming a series of proven approaches to many of the issues and problems faced today by staff and students in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). In sum, if colleagues are looking for ideas over the summer regarding how they might build upon student engagement, thereby enhancing the academic experiences of their students, these two collections may well prove to be treasure-troves.

The Compendium of effective practice in higher education: Volume 2 (HEA, 2013) builds upon the approach taken in the Compendium of effective practice in higher education retention and success (HEA, 2012). Taken together, they offer a series of some eighty case studies regarding efforts made in HEIs across the country, particularly with reference to six well-established areas of concern:

  • transition – the move from school/college to university, as well as beyond;
  • learning and teaching – centring on approaches aimed at fostering independent learning and promoting student success;
  • supporting students – including peer support and the integration of current students;
  • participation and belonging – the ways in which institutions promote student engagement to develop a sense of belonging;
  • utilisation of data and information communication technologies – how data and technology can be used to aid and enhance learning; and
  • strategic change – broad and creative approaches aim at bringing about significant change.

Colleagues will already be very familiar with co-tutor, which Melanie King (Centre for Engineering and Design Education) describes as “a relationship management system to enable staff to monitor students’ engagement and provide support to ‘at-risk’ students” – this is just one of the case studies in the first volume. These have been joined by a number of other examples in this second volume, and offer a variety of ways in which the academic community may want to consider how the student academic experience might best be supported and enhanced.