Update from Viv Jones, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Student Education

Viven Jones speaks about the NSS conference and other events that have taken place recently.


On Thursday of last week I attended Ipsos-Mori’s annual conference on the National Student Survey where Bradley Escorcio, LUU Union Affairs Officer, and Alice Smart, Education Officer, gave a great presentation from their perspective on how at Leeds we work in partnership with students in responding to NSS results. This was a timely reminder that across the University Schools should be involving students not just in writing this year’s action plans, but in making those plans a meaningful reference point for activities throughout the year.

Nine years on from its inception, the NSS is under scrutiny to check that it is fit for purpose.  Various contributors to the conference threw light on that process. The review is due to report in June of next year, but HEFCE are keen to maintain the familiar NSS design long enough to make like-for-like comparisons between student responses before and after the introduction of the £9k fee, so no significant changes are envisaged before 2017. Thereafter, however, it’s very likely that a rather different survey will emerge: one with a much greater focus on teasing out information about levels of student engagement.  

Whatever we might think about the details of its design and its translation into league tables, the public visibility of the NSS made it the first effective counterblast to the seriously negative impact which the RAE had on the status of teaching and attention to the student experience in many research-intensive institutions. The felt need to measure student engagement, to pay attention to the power and importance of the student voice – so ably demonstrated by Bradley and Alice this week – is in part an effect of the NSS itself. But there will need to be careful definition of what we mean by ‘student engagement’. My view would be that it’s not just about measuring the effectiveness of systems of representation, but about getting students to reflect on their personal, active involvement in their education, both curricular and co-curricular, and getting institutions to reflect on how effective we are at encouraging that kind of active involvement. These are the principles that underpin LeedsforLife and the Partnership, of course. How that more subtle kind of inquiry might sit alongside the league table mentality generated by the NSS and other similar surveys will be an interesting question.

Something the NSS does provide is a huge amount of data about how responses might vary not just across institutions, schools and programmes but across different student groups – whether home or international, male or female, from different socio-economic or ethnic backgrounds, or with particular disabilities. This is an area where we have a lot more work to do in both understanding and acting on the available evidence. 

In future, we will be helped in achieving that kind of detailed understanding of our students’ needs and responses by the rich data that will become available through our Student Education Service (SES) CRM system. Earlier this week, we held the first of two open meetings to update colleagues on progress with the SES implementation (the second is this Thursday, 14 November). The announcement of Microsoft Dynamics as our preferred provider is significant and exciting. But, as I said to colleagues at the open meeting, we must move away as soon as possible from the ‘C’ in ‘CRM’ (Customer Relationship Management) and find our own name for a system which supports and enables active student engagement in its full sense. Suggestions welcome!

This week also saw a couple of firsts: the completion of the inaugural Leeds MOOC: Jon Lovett’s ‘Fairness and Nature: When Worlds Collide’, which received glowing reports from participants as well as from Futurelearn; and the initial meeting of the Taught Student Internationalisation Group, whose remit is to ensure that all our students, whether from this country or overseas, develop precisely the kind of international, ethical awareness which Jon’s MOOC addresses in the particular area of natural resources. Continuing to offer our students an education that makes sophisticated use of new technologies and at the same time makes them aware of ethical challenges is the best way to ensure that, however student satisfaction is measured in the future, Leeds students make their mark as global citizens.

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