Investing in our students
Ensuring we continue to attract the world's best young talent
With an iconic presence in one of the world's leading economic and cultural centres, we have a head start on many universities in attracting high calibre students. Our reputation also plays a key role, as do our rapidly growing list of world-class academics and excellent facilities. But standing still is not an option, especially in an era of flux. So what are we doing to build on our reputation? Professor David Bolton, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, outlines our progress in 2012 and explains how our Strategic Plan will boost the educational experience for students.
There is no doubt that these are challenging times in the world of higher education. The start of 2012 saw UK undergraduate education facing profound changes. The press understandably concentrated on the impact on university applications as fees rose to £9,000 for most undergraduate courses. However, universities themselves were also concerned with the implications of the removal of entrant 'quotas' for students with 'A' levels at grades AAB or above.
Outperforming the sector
Despite this increasingly competitive environment, we succeeded in recruiting to 2011 levels at AAB or above and again increased our average entry qualifications in line with our aim to exceed 400 tariff points. There was good news at postgraduate level too. Increases in many fees did not affect postgraduate recruitment materially and we exceeded our targets. We ended 2012 with competition for undergraduate students increasing further, as quotas were removed for those with ABB or above, but with our 2013 applications running at a few per cent ahead of the sector overall.
Listening to the student voice
Naturally the views of students themselves are a primary influence on our initiatives to improve the student experience at City. In 2012 nearly 500 students helped their colleagues as course representatives in formal and informal ways to implement improvements to courses and education, while our Students' Union Sabbatical Officers played a key role in shaping the student and education-related aspects of our Strategic Plan. In our student survey campaign, we made important improvements in timing and staff and student involvement in survey promotion and thereby achieved our highest ever National Student Survey participation at 72% for third year undergraduates and among the highest participation rates in the sector for our internal surveys for other years at 25%.
A satisfying result in the National Student Survey
The National Student Survey (NSS) gathers opinions from final year undergraduates on the quality of their courses. It is the most visible indicator of student satisfaction and is crucial for our academic staff, who can learn about student opinions of their performance and develop their approach to education accordingly. In 2012, our overall result rose by one percentage point, with 79 per cent of our students indicating that overall they were satisfied with their courses. The Cass Business School undergraduate programme continued to perform well and Mechanical Engineering; Speech and Language Therapy; and Psychology moved into the UK's top 20 per cent for their subjects. Alongside the National Student Survey, we also collect feedback from students for every module offered: this involves the collection and analysis of more than 800 modules per term with between 15 and 500 students studying each module.
Investment to boost the student experience
The Strategic Plan set a broad scope for enhancement of our educational activities. During 2012, we undertook further extensive consultation work with staff and students to agree a series of initiatives aimed at improving our educational performance and student experience. A Working Group of Senate chaired by the Students' Union President focused on the development of our student community. Arising from its recommendations, all undergraduates will have the opportunity to be mentored (or 'buddied') by an alumnus or other relevant peer. Other new initiatives include an overhaul of our arrangements for individual contact and advice for students on their programmes, including personal tutoring and a comprehensive review of how information channels and communication work for all our students. We also deployed additional resources to improve the Career & Skills Development Service during 2012.
Educational highlights in 2012
- Our Learning at City conference in June focused on assessment and feedback and culminated with the award of 49 University Learning and Teaching Prizes. These included the Student Voice Award, which received more than 200 student nominations for individual academic staff.
- The academic staff development programme, the MA in Academic Practice, had more than 100 participants in 2012 and many other staff undertook individual development, including in use of learning technologies and assessment practices.
- Our new virtual learning environment, Moodle, entered its second academic year. Moodle now supports more than 5,600 modules and becomes ever more popular with staff and students, with many staff undertaking specific development projects to enhance their use.
- More publicly, there are more than 30 City collections now available on iTunesU. With over 370 episodes we can see that many prospective students and parents view them before visiting us or applying to us.
- We also concentrated on our physical learning environment. During 2012, two rooms were adjusted to become 'dynamic learning spaces' for use by lecturers and students, with different furniture, write-on walls, flexible space configuration and enhanced network coverage to encourage more participative approaches to learning. These pilot rooms are being used to inform the design of the new rooms envisaged in the Estate Plan.
An objective view on our student experience
The year ended with the publication of the findings of our Institutional Review, undertaken by the Quality Assurance Agency. The Review is a government-sponsored external assessment of quality and standards for universities and is undertaken every four to six years by a Review Team of senior academic staff and a student.
The Review Team visited, assessed evidence and met students and staff. The University received a positive result, meeting UK expectations for academic standards and learning opportunities. We were pleased that the 'recommendations' for further action reflected our own thinking, for example in strengthening quality arrangements within our partnerships. The Team identified numerous areas of good practice, including our proactive approach to engaging students in improving the quality of their experience.
Building on a successful formula
By the end of 2012, we were attracting ever better qualified students who, quite rightfully, demand more and more from their City experience. Everything is in place to meet these challenges: recruitment and development of high-calibre academic staff, focused investment in IT, services, facilities and the estate, student-centred educational and student experience initiatives and involvement of our students in all projects. As a result, we can be confident that the quality of experience for City students in future will be better than ever.