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Vice-Provost views



Supporting students to succeed: priorities for 2017-18

By ucypasm, on 16 October 2017

Professor Anthony Smith, UCL Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)

Professor Anthony Smith, UCL Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)

To say that the higher education landscape was facing rapid change and uncertainty was a cliche even five years ago, but now it seems like an understatement.

The Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has put university education in the spotlight and we began 2017 expecting that inflation-tracking increases in tuition fees for Home/EU students would be based on TEF outcomes.

All that has now changed, particularly since the general election, and the focus now is on the affordability of higher education for young people and an increasing expectation on universities that they demonstrate the value of what they offer.

Despite the shifting picture even in the last few weeks, the key objectives of UCL’s Education Strategy 2016-2021 remain as relevant and important as ever: supporting students so that they succeed in their studies, enjoy their experience at UCL and secure a great next step in their careers.

Personal tutoring campaign

Personal tutoring campaign

In our mission to improve UCL’s education, our focus for the 2017-18 academic session is on assessment feedback and academic support, in particular, personal tutoring.

Their importance has been re-emphasised by the results of NSS 2017, where we performed poorly both relative to the Russell Group and when compared with all UK higher education institutions.

A substantial minority of our students were dissatisfied with aspects of teaching, assessment and feedback, learning opportunities and academic support. We know we can improve in these areas: additional support to departments through the Annual Student Experience Review (ASER) Intensive process has resulted in significant improvement in satisfaction, for example, with assessment and feedback.

There is another imperative for improvement – the next iteration of the TEF, where teaching and student outcomes will be judged at subject level. I welcome the recent announcement that the focus of TEF in the future will be more on outcomes and that the weighting given to NSS will be halved. However NSS results will still be important and we must get on to a trajectory of consistent improvement.

We have just had a very successful undergraduate recruitment round in the face of intense competition from universities around the world, a declining UK demographic of 18 – 30 year olds and the uncertainties of Brexit. Success at subject-level TEF will be important to sustain this strong position.

So, to our priorities for 2017-18:

Improving academic support

1709 PT words graphicNew materials to support personal tutoring are being distributed to all personal tutors. They are also being made available, in print and digital formats, to all students.

‘What you need to succeed’ is a guide for students which explains the scope and purpose of personal tutoring, and seeks to set expectations and ensure a consistent experience of personal tutoring across UCL.

‘Things to talk about’ is a leaflet containing topics and prompts for both staff and students, to make sure that conversations are relevant to the student’s progress through their time at UCL.

Through the year, further resources will be shared with personal tutors and students, to help make their meetings as effective as possible.

We are also examining the factors influencing the academic performance of BME students from the UK; we will be offering resources and training to improve inclusivity and promote a diverse curriculum so that you and your teams can support your students to reach their full potential.

Also in the coming year, we are developing our online Introductory Programme, supporting the transition from school to UCL, for launch in summer 2018, and we aim to invest further in academic skills development across the university.

Improving feedback

UCL students give notably low rates of satisfaction in response to the following NSS questions:
10. Feedback on my work has been timely
11. I have received helpful comments on my work

Our policy is that students receive feedback within one calendar month of the submission deadline of each piece of assessed work, and departments are encouraged to provide this in a shorter timeframe if possible.

But it’s not just about the timeliness of feedback, it’s about how useful it is to students. Colleagues who teach are invited to access Arena Centre resources and information to help them give good quality feedback to students.

The Arena Centre is also offering their ‘Giving good quality feedback’ workshop in October, November and December.  Colleagues are finding them really useful and I encourage you to attend one if you haven’t already done so.

A guide to help students make the most of feedback will be distributed to students and Personal Tutors for the start of second term.

In addition we are developing policy and investing in infrastructure that will support ongoing improvements to assessment and feedback. Throughout the coming year, work will continue on developing structures in UCL’s online provision that enable staff to develop excellent assessment practice, with further evaluation of the effectiveness of enhancements to Moodle through staff and student user testing.

Information about assessment practice across UCL will be collected as part of the Academic Model Project’s comprehensive data collection exercise, which is expected to be complete in February 2018. These data will enable the design of specific and tailored interventions based on insights from current practice.

The UCL Assessment Forum will be a vehicle for sharing good practice and dialogue around assessment at UCL. Finally, 2016-17 saw additional regulations changes to support the improvement of feedback, ensuring consistency and fairness. In 17-18, a student guide to the regulations will be developed and published.

Improving our teaching and learning estate

Flexible study space at the refurbished UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health Library

Flexible study space in the refurbished UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health Library

Improving academic support and assessment and feedback practices are the ‘stand-out’ challenges for this year, but intensive work continues elsewhere, including with our teaching and learning estate.

In excess of 500 learning spaces and 600 student computers have been added over the past few months and if you are on the central Bloomsbury campus you will have seen that the New Student Centre is taking shape and will provide a further 1,000 study spaces when it opens in early 2019. Similarly with teaching spaces, I am looking forward to seeing the Faculty of Laws return to Bentham House early next year as well as new teaching spaces with a total capacity in excess of 500 at Central House and 1 – 19 Torrington Place, plus the new pop-up in the Main Quad.

Together we achieved a great deal last year. TEF Silver, finalist in the Higher Education Academy’s inaugural Global Teaching Excellence Awards and approval of UCL’s new Academic Careers Framework were some of my personal highlights. I look forward to working with you to make this year equally successful.

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