Read Length: Less than 4 minutes
Synopsis: How Higher Education institutions can utilize direct insights from Student Union leaders to improve effectiveness and communication around feedback gathering.
Explorance recently published a timely report entitled ‘Module evaluation in a pandemic and beyond: What is student leaders ‘ask’ of universities gathering their views on teaching and learning? This saw UK and Ireland Students’ Union representatives reflect on their expectations of institutions around module evaluation for the first time in a such a format.
This study gauged student leaders’ own experience of module evaluation surveys, and how universities’ approaches to capturing student feedback via surveys has shifted, including during the first semester of 2020-21 in the context of Covid-19 and national lockdown. This report also provided perspectives on what institutions could do differently going forward.
Here are four clear imperatives which have emerged from this report, and it is no coincidence that effective communication runs right through the heart.
- Actively listen to students
Naturally, Student Union leaders expect universities to actively listen to students. That is a given, but reflecting on wider sector initiatives, including the National Student Survey (NSS), Competition and Markets Authority and Office for Students (OfS) policy directives, it is also in institutions’ best interests to do so. “In effect, students are consumers because they buy a service and give feedback on that,” said Jawad Ahmad, Vice President (Education) at Aston Students’ Union. “There is definitely a requirement for universities to use student feedback for quality assurance and quality enhancement processes. We see (this) with the NSS and the OfS, which is asking universities to report on how this is being done.”
- Clearly manage expectations
Better and more open communication is required to help students understand what changes are possible following their module evaluation feedback, but SU leaders are realistic about what can be delivered. “Reputationally, it is better for universities to acknowledge any desired change and indicate where they can improve particularly where things are not great,” explained Reading University Students’ Union Education Officer George Ingram. “At the same time it is important to manage expectations: not all feedback can be acted on.”
Tim Hewes-Belton, Student Engagement Manager at Worcester Students’ Union, added: “Universities should not be afraid to say if there is something they are working on and this is not solved as yet, but the sector as a whole is reluctant to do that.”
- ‘Close the loop’
SUs expect their university to respond to student feedback, but the “sector-wide issue” of closing the feedback loop remains. “Closing the loop is something we are all interested in but do not have a definitive answer to,” said Lexi Ehresmann, Vice President Education at University of Stirling Students’ Union. “When I was a student I always wondered where my feedback went, and how it would impact on me.” Open University Students Association Vice President Engagement Fanni Zombor agreed. “Overall, I think the University is very good at acting on feedback, but closing the loop is the biggest problem. They do things, they change things, but are not good at communicating it.”
- Demonstrate the end result
Students’ own perceptions – and lack of understanding – as to how their feedback is used and is applied by their institution for quality assurance and quality enhancement purposes, is a major issue. “The issue of closing the loop effectively on feedback and the ‘What does this mean for us?’ question clearly remain,” Angel Layer, former Vice President (Education and Democracy) and Research and Insights Assistant at University of Portsmouth Students’ Union told us. “Sometimes surveys are undertaken but the results are not seen until two or three years down the line. But having genuine insight to act upon, and going back to students through ‘you said, we did’ mechanisms is so important.”
John Atherton, General Manager (Europe and Africa), Explorance
Higher education•Student Experience Management•Student feedback•