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Institutions review their student experience processes

We asked institutions to work with their students’ unions to review their processes for identifying and resolving internal areas of concern surrounding the student experience.

Institutions should report on the effectiveness of these processes to senate or their council, as they judge appropriate, on at least an annual basis. 

As part of the 2015 Annual Accountability Returns all providers that we fund were asked to confirm that they have reviewed their approaches to student experience, ensured that appropriate arrangements are in place and that annual assurances are provided to the relevant body within the institution. Colleges were provided with a separate proforma as part of this process.

What institutions included in the reviews

We advised institutions that they should:

  • review the effectiveness and timeliness of mechanisms for dealing with informal and formal complaints, including those from:
    • individual students
    • course representatives
    • meetings with student representatives.
  • include data on frequent complaints, so their causes can be addressed
  • review how student feedback is collected, and the actions taken as a result
  • consider how social media monitoring can be used to identify complaints.

Early identification of any emerging issues is key. The earlier any concerns are resolved, the better it is for student experience and the institution’s reputation. It should also mean that in most cases there should be no need for external intervention.

Useful aspects for institutions to consider

To guide our development of this policy we considered a number of aspects which we will continue to be mindful of in operating this policy and which may also prove useful for institutions to consider:

  • potential threats to quality through rapid expansion, or through rapid expansion in discipline areas where a provider might not have existing experience, teaching capacity or learning resources.
  • potential threats to quality from rapid decline in numbers, threatening course or institutional viability
  • a distinction between natural or planned growth to meet anticipated demand, and sudden, uncontrolled growth or artificially generated demand where quality of provision might be threatened
  • a distinction between planning in advance for the consequences of declining numbers and being overtaken by or not recognising events
  • how a holistic understanding of an institution and risk rather than a hard number metric (for example, percentage retention or percentage growth) might be used as a basis on which to act
  • the mechanism(s) through which rapid change might be monitored and acted upon. This might include consideration of existing mechanisms, such as investigation by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)
  • the range of responses we might deploy where a threat to quality was identified.

Why we asked institutions to do this

The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the 2013 autumn statement that student number controls would be removed from the HEFCE funded sector in 2015-16. The Secretary of State’s 2014 Grant Letter further requested that with the removal of student number controls from publicly funded institutions in 2015-16 HEFCE should “develop mechanisms and corrective actions to ensure institutions maintain the quality of the student experience”. 

To meet this request we consider greater awareness and consistency desirable in existing approaches. So, we asked institutions to review their processes and ensured we appropriately monitor data and other information that might indicate changes in the experience. 

Impact assessment

Our approach

Our approach is designed to be effective but low-burden. It relies in the first instance on institutions continuing to operate a responsible approach to ensuring the student academic experience is not jeopardised by variations (expansion or contraction) in numbers. We will continue to discuss variations in student numbers with institutions, as well as looking at relevant and appropriate data. We will seek to ensure that existing external mechanisms remain sufficiently agile and fit for purpose for the changed environment and can be used fully and properly.

Our approach is designed around four areas:

  • Institutions generally plan and manage change effectively to ensure that the quality of the student experience is protected.
  • Any signs of risk to the quality of the student experience should be identified quickly within institutions and appropriate action to address these follow.
  • HEFCE will monitor changes in the circumstances of individual institutions in the normal ways, including through dialogue and analysis of existing appropriate data sources.
  • If the early signs of a deteriorating student experience are not picked up and acted upon by an institution then the existing mechanisms to deal with such matters will come into play, be these through HEFCE engaging directly with the institution, bringing forward a quality assessment review or raising a concern under the QAA concerns scheme.