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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.