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Why it’s important to let our students know we’re listening

By ucypasm, on 4 December 2018

Our students have many opportunities to make their voices heard, so why don’t they think we’re acting on their feedback?

Our Student Engagement team can help you tell your students how they are driving change.

Professor Anthony Smith


At the heart of what we are doing is the idea of students as partners – a key principle that we wrote into UCL2034 and followed through in the Education Strategy 2016- 21.

This was developed through wide-reaching consultation with students as well as staff, and is predicated on working in partnership with our students towards our objectives of all students having a stretching and challenging education and a fulfilling experience to prepare them for the next stage in their careers.

What does partnership look like?

Our partnerships with students take many forms and I am proud of all the ways that have been established – at department, faculty and institution level – to enable our students to make their voices heard and create real and lasting change for them and their successors. We know that such engagement is a positive influence on the quality of their experience at UCL.

Students’ Union UCL and Student Academic Representatives: we work closely with the elected Sabbatical Officers and staff of the UCL Students’ Union. The Students’ Union trains and inspires more than 1,350 Student Academic Representatives, who work at department and faculty level to represent the opinions and ideas of their undergraduate and postgraduate classmates.

Every department has a Student Staff Consultative Committee (SSCC), where staff and student representatives meet at least termly to discuss issues raised by students and come up with solutions.

Student surveys and consultations: students are given the opportunity to reflect on many aspects of their experience of UCL at different points during their time here through our institutional surveys, New to UCL, Student Experience Survey, National Student Survey, PTES [link to Annual Survey Cycle].

Our students give more specific feedback about their academic experience through module evaluation and work is underway to buy a new system to reduce the administrative burden on departments of running these surveys.

Student Experience Panel and focus groups: students are recruited to focus groups for consultation on initiatives to make the student experience better, for example, ensuring that regulations around exams and extenuating circumstances are clear and fair, or asking students for their feedback on how UCL handles enquiries and questions about access to services.

Our thousand-strong Student Experience Panel gives feedback through surveys, workshops or user-testing on anything from the design of new print material to the key message of a campaign. Find out more about working with the Student Experience Panel or how to submit a request on the Teaching and Learning portal.

Active engagement: as ChangeMakers, Arena Student Fellows and Student Reviewers, our students collaborate with staff across the university to improve the student experience (for example, reviewing and replacing a key textbook with an alternative, more accessible option for the Psychology with Education BSc programme, establishing a dissertation ‘mixer’ event for third year students to help prepare second years on the BA Geography programme and the development of the UCL ChangeMaker Guides to Assessment and Feedback.)

Poor NSS score for Student Voice

In spite of the mechanisms that are in place, we perform poorly on the ‘Student Voice’ measure in the National Student Survey.  In 2018 we scored 68%, compared with the sector average of 73%. Look more closely at the three questions that combine to create this score, and it is clear where the problem lies.

  • 84% of our students agree that they have had the right opportunities to provide feedback on their course – here we are absolutely in line with the sector.
  • But only 69% of our students agree that staff value students’ views and opinions about the course
  • And, worryingly, only just over half our students (51%) agree with the statement ‘It is clear how students’ feedback on the course has been acted on’.

Across UCL in recent years you have made a tremendous number of positive changes. So why don’t our students think we’re listening? Perhaps because we aren’t communicating that change effectively.

This matters. First, because that’s how successful partnerships work – if you work alongside students to make change, if you consult them about the way you do things, then part of the partnership process is to tell them how they’ve made a difference.

Second, closing the loop helps you to measure the impact of the changes you’ve made – if you’ve acted on what your students are telling you and your students can see the difference, then they’ll let you know through surveys and more informal feedback.

Third, the metrics matter to our reputation. In 2020 we will make our subject-level submission to the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF). One of the metrics that will be used to measure the quality of a UCL education will be the Student Voice metric of NSS.

How can you tell your students about change?

We have just appointed Professor Deborah Gill as UCL’s first Pro Vice-Provost (Student Experience) and engaging with students is key to her role. Early in the New Year, Professor Gill and our Head of Student Engagement, Sally Mackenzie, will be meeting with departments to understand local challenges and identify ways that my office can offer support to communicate the changes that have been driven by your students.

There are several ways to do this:

Celebrate positive change

We are privileged to be able to attract such talented students to UCL and we must make the most of the opportunities to benefit from their ideas to improve the education we offer.

And finally, communicating the positive changes gives us the opportunity to thank all the students and staff who are making a difference and shaping UCL for the better.

A pan-UCL view of Health and Life Sciences

By rmhzdal, on 18 October 2018

The School of Life and Medical Sciences (SLMS) seeks to tackle the greatest health challenges that face society, including dementia, mental health, genetic disease, obesity, infectious disease, cancer and ageing. This is a prodigious ambition and we don’t do it alone.

Our ambition is to bring together UCL researchers, across all UCL disciplines and Schools, who work on health – and our definition of health is all encompassing! As well as human physical and mental health, this could include animal health and planetary health (‘One Health’).

In order to facilitate these important pan-UCL initiatives on health, in early 2016 we established the UCL Health Strategy Forum to address the need for a pan-UCL perspective across the breadth of our health priorities. Vice Deans (Health or Interdisciplinarity) or Health Champions have been appointed in all UCL Faculties and are members of the Forum. This pan-UCL engagement has highlighted the range of UCL Faculties involved in multi-disciplinary, health-related research and the extent of the levels at which it takes place: through institutes, centres or hubs, consortia, and projects of varying scale and scope.

The Forum plays a key role in supporting the significant advances made by the UCL Domains and UCL Grand Challenges in extending and developing interactions between SLMS and the rest of UCL. Pan-UCL health research is facilitated via the UCL Research Domains of: Personalised Medicine, Populations & Lifelong Health, Neuroscience, Cancer and more recently established Domains on Food Metabolism and Society, and Microbiology. A very successful launch event for the Microbiology research Domain was held in April 2018. Domain activities are co-ordinated via the Office of the Vice Provost (Health) Research Coordination Office, and the Office of the UCL Vice-Provost (Research).

  • The Cancer Domain aims to ensure that the breadth and depth of cancer research is visible to external audiences, and brings together investigators around four themes: Understanding Cancer; Treating Cancer; Technology; and Cancer in Society. It links UCL computer scientists, ethicists, statisticians, clinicians, engineers, physicists, and life scientists as well as NHS Trusts, funders, and industry partners. Their recent ‘Artificial Intelligence in Cancer’ event brought together over 120 researchers.
  • The UCL Personalised Medicine Domain aims to harness the personalised medicine research activity across the university and its partner hospitals, to deliver innovative patient-targeted medicines and therapies. The Domain has established a Precision Medicine accelerator focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Healthcare. The SLMS Translational Research Office (TRO) worked together with venture capitalists, companies and the UCL community notably, BEAMS investigators to develop the AI in Health accelerator.
  • The Populations & Lifelong Health domain co-ordinated UCL’s successful £7m application for membership of Health Data Research UK, as a pan-London collaboration with Imperial, Kings, QMUL, and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The focus is on health informatics and actionable analytics, precision medicine, public health, and clinical trials.
  • The Neuroscience Domain has supported the UCL Mental Health strategy working group which consulted widely across UCL to develop recommendations for our future mental health research direction. It has also helped to facilitate productive connections between the Institute of Education and the Divisions of Psychology and Language Sciences and Psychiatry.

Education also benefits from a pan-UCL approach and UCL offers 28 health-related Masters’ programmes external to SLMS, including a new Master’s degree in Bio-social Anthropology. In addition to the 15 MSc, 7 MA and 5 MRes programmes across BEAMS, SLASH and the IoE, Engineering hosts an EPSRC Doctoral Training Programme in Medical Imaging, MAPS offers a health-related post-graduate certificate, and Laws offer two health-related modules.

We aim to extend our impact by close working with UCL’s NHS partners and other Academic Health Science Centres within London and the Southeast cluster. We are involved in a range of exciting major projects with our national and international partners. These are some of our research initiatives:

  • The Wellcome/EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences (WEISS) accommodates researchers from the Faculty of Engineering, the Division of Surgery & Interventional Science, the Centre for Medical Imaging and the Institute for Healthcare Engineering in state-of-the-art interdisciplinary facilities at Charles Bell House, enabling research at the intersection of engineering and health.
  • Led by UCL Biochemical Engineering, the EPSRC Future Vaccine Manufacturing Research Hub (Vax-Hub) will drive vaccine discovery, development and manufacturing, bringing together 25 partners with industry and policy makers to address key challenges in vaccine manufacturing.
  • The EPSRC IRC in Early-Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases (i-sense) is a multidisciplinary research consortium which aims to engineer a new generation of disruptive sensing systems to diagnose, monitor and prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as major flu epidemics, MRSA and HIV.
  • The contribution of health economics to decisions concerning the production, distribution and evaluation of health and healthcare is recognised by health services worldwide. The Faculty of Population Health Sciences has brought together and strengthened the health economics community across UCL, including Economics, Statistical Science, IoE Social Science and Engineering.
  • The Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (CUSSH), a four-year Wellcome Trust funded collaboration between Bartlett School of Architecture and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, will deliver key global research on the systems that connect urban development and health.

UCL has one of the largest and most prestigious groupings of academics in biomedical, life and population health sciences in the world. While we are all familiar with the need to interpret league tables with care, they nonetheless provide a helpful indication that our performance over the last academic year supports this claim. In the QS World University Rankings, UCL ‘Life Sciences and Medicine’ ranked 8th in the world (up from 11th in 2017), moving ahead of Yale, UCSF and UCLA, and 3rd in the UK, sustaining our position ahead of our London peers, Imperial and King’s.

I am convinced that this success is due to our pursuit of UCL 2034’s third principal theme: to address global challenges using our ‘distinctive cross-disciplinary approach’. We have made cross-disciplinarity a priority and we can only get better by working more closely with one another. I am keen that we continue to extend and grow the interactions in health and life sciences across UCL.

Professor David Lomas

Vice Provost (Health)

For further information on how to get involved, please contact the Domain leads, or:

Dr Sinéad Kennedy (Director of Research Co-ordination & Planning, OVPH) for research opportunities in health: sinead.kennedy@ucl.ac.uk;

Dr Jane Kinghorn (Director of the Translational Research Office, OVPH) for translational research: j.kinghorn@ucl.ac.uk;

Dr Nandi Simpson (Acting Head of Partnerships and Projects, OVPH) for the Health Strategy Forum: i.simpson@ucl.ac.uk.