“Student expectations and perceptions of higher education” – a QAA-funded report

New in this blog post: Dr Camille Kandiko Howson video recording (added May 2014)

This blog will offer some key points and highlights from Dr Camille Kandiko Howson’s lucid and engaging presentation on “Student expectations and perceptions of higher education in the UK” a QAA-funded report based on the voice of over 150 students across the UK. If you weren’t able to come to the session, I would urge you to read the summary report and the recommendations.

My seven highlights were:

1. A key observation is that students are looking for their experience to offer ‘value for money’, which poses the challenge (and need) for the university to communicate to students how this money is spent.

2. Students’ benchmarks of a quality student experience comprised a number of factors ranging from environmental (physical spaces and technological access), through organisational aspects of their course (course structure and timetabling) to scholarly standards. For students, it was seen as extremely important how knowledgeable and motivated academics were in the subjects they were teaching and to have a minimum level of provisions in the environmental and organisational aspects, such as good learning spaces and wi-fi access.

3. Students saw their degree experience as instrumental, leading to employment prospects and career enhancement. They saw less value in centralised careers services and more value in  guidance, support and development opportunities such as internships, placements and work experience.

4. Another key conclusion of the report was the need for ‘strong course-level management’ drawn from student preferences who wanted evaluation and feedback at the course-level. A strong wish for students was that they wanted response to their feedback here-and-now, and seemed frustrated to be told if changes can only be made for prospective students. Students also only seemed to see as far as the remit of their course: both initiatives, staff and support. The visibility level beyond students’ immediate course (e.g. senior management or departmental or higher levels) was lost in the fog of university (see above image). These findings suggest a need for ‘a clear structure of academic management mirroring undergraduate student-facing aspects, including local feedback, evaluation, module and course review.’

5. Student opinions also pointed to a preference, for the purpose of engagement, for student representational structures that offered opportunities at course, rather than at institutional level.

6. Equity of opportunity: students expressed the need for a personalised higher education experience, which allows some degree of choice  to students (e.g. options) and at the same time one that is fair and equal to everyone, i.e. once at university, no matter from what background or skill level, or other circumstances, to have the same opportunity as everyone else.

7. At the recruitment stage, students want to see what a real assignment or a reading list looks like, instead of glossy university brochures and promotional materials. This linked to a point on transition, with students observing the gap between student expectations and their actual experience when they arrive at the university, indicating to potential need for guidance as to what students are supposed to do and where to go for support.

Students see as far as their course boundary, not beyond. One key finding was to offer strong course-level management, support and structures so that students can experience these as part of their course.

The above are some of my key highlights –  what were yours? And more importantly, having heard, or read this engaging report, what are the implications for your practice? Please add these in the comments . Whatever these may be, the report’s conclusion: “working with students, not for, students” seems apt.

Tünde Varga-Atkins, eLearning Unit, University of Liverpool