My week - 16 September 2013 - Professor Vivien Jones

Professor Vivien Jones, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Student Education, discusses annual survey results and the student experience.

Professor Vivien Jones

The summer in Student Education is punctuated not just by confirmation and clearing, but by the results of the annual surveys that we use as key indicators of the quality of the education we provide for our students.  National Student Survey (NSS) results arrived at the beginning of August, preceded in July by the Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education (DLHE) which measures the level of graduate employment among 2012 leavers.  Added to these is our internal Programme Survey – in some ways the most important of all, since it’s completed by students who are still with us.  

Our overall NSS scores this year were steady rather than spectacular.  I’m delighted that LUU equalled their 90% from last year (against a national average of 68), which puts them in second place nationally.  We maintained last year’s 87% for ‘overall satisfaction’ and it was good to see our steady improvement on ‘assessment and feedback’ – up another two points to 71 and equalling the national average for the first time.  In the DLHE, our institutional average slipped slightly from 71.9% to 70.6% in graduate jobs or further study six months after graduating – though it’s not yet clear to what extent this is due simply to a change in methodology.

So as we prepare to welcome a new cohort of students, this is also an important time for reflecting on what our current and former students are telling us about how they perceive their experience here and for planning how we can best use this information, working in partnership with our students throughout the coming year to make their experience even better.  

This reflection and planning has to happen in schools and in programme teams.  Averages of themselves tell us very little.  They mask significant variations between schools, between programmes within schools, and across question categories.  Within an institutional average of 71 for assessment and feedback, for example, some areas achieve 88, some only 56.  We need to understand what’s going wrong at the bottom end, and I’m already working with low-scoring schools to help do that.  But what we do know from years of experience of the NSS is that students’ interactions with individual members of staff really matter.  Inconsistencies between tutors in the quality or timeliness of feedback, for example, or students getting the impression that one particular member of staff doesn’t really care about them can have a massive impact on the score given to a whole programme.  So reflection on survey scores and commitment to further improving student satisfaction has to be everyone’s responsibility – whether as members of the academic teaching staff or of the Student Education Service.  There’s no room at all for complacency.

Our ability to respond in a focused way to the DLHE figures will be significantly helped by our Leeds Careers Registration: the requirement that as part of the registration process all students indicate their level of employment preparedness and work experience.  One of the great pieces of news this week was that our Careers Service has been awarded best in sector for engagement and innovation for the development of this unique resource.

Surveys are an approximate measure of student satisfaction, and the league tables constructed out of minutely different scores can be a distraction.  But their existence has made a huge difference to the attention paid to the student experience.  This week, I shall be participating in the national review of the NSS – now in its ninth year.  It could certainly be improved – perhaps by introducing banding rather than precise scores in order to minimise the wrong kind of league table mentality – but in my role I certainly wouldn’t be without it.  By pointing us not just to what our students really think but to how that compares with peer institutions, it provides vital evidence of how we’re doing in our collective effort to make a Leeds University education the best it can be – in national terms, as a preparation for employability, and as an exciting experience for all our students.


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