Bournemouth University: Strategic student engagement

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1 QAA Good Practice Knowledgebase case study Bournemouth University: Strategic student engagement Theme Student engagement Sub-themes Academic policy, Students' Union Feature of good practice as identified by Institutional Review June 2013 (quoted directly from the review report): The University engages students individually, and collectively through the Students' Union, in its development of academic strategy and policy. Context Bournemouth University (the University) is a post-1992 university. The University has a professional orientation with a focus on academic excellence and graduate employability. There are over 17,000 students of which 1,500 are international students from around 130 countries. Of relevance to this FGP is the well-established close working relationship between the Students' Union at Bournemouth University (SUBU) and the University at all levels. This is facilitated by a clear vision in the Strategic Plan to involve students in all relevant aspects of University provision. Mechanisms are in place to engage students in all academic related activities, for example the review of policies and procedures. This paper has been authored by SUBU staff and student sabbatical officers in consultation with University staff. Description of good practice In 2009 the Centre for Higher Education Research and Information (CHERI) at the Open University produced a report on the state of student engagement in higher education institutions in the UK. Both the University and SUBU used this report as a guide in developing an appropriate quality assurance regime at the institution. In particular the following objectives were addressed. 1. The need to make the system of representation as simple and clear as possible for the benefit of all. 2. The need to provide support for representatives both from the university and from SUBU.

2 3. The need to ensure that any system developed enabled the student voice to be heard, considered, and responded to as quickly and appropriately as possible, and as close to the students' personal experience as possible. 4. The need to improve the quality of School-level student representation, particularly focusing on the need to solve the perennial issue of effectively hearing the individual voice and considering the representative voice. In response to these specific objectives, the following developments took place in partnership. 1. The student voice at the University was clarified as having three clear levels; the individual voice, the student representatives' voice, and the SUBU executive voice. This was later articulated in one of the University's policies and procedures on student engagement and feedback. 'Student representatives' are clearly defined as being the channel for the collective voice to be heard across the University. They are not just programme representatives for academic issues; they are representatives for all matters relating to the student experience. 2. Each School has identified a member of academic staff as a focus for all student experience matters. As part of the role this Student Experience Champion/Student Representative Champion works with SUBU in supporting the role of student representatives in each School. 3. Training and resources were developed to enable student representatives to effectively gather student views from their cohort and then present them to meetings and committees that could actually do something about them. This need to keep the conversation and action as close to the student experience as possible is still a driving feature of the University's system. 4. As identified in the 2009 CHERI report, developing effective student representation at faculty level is still seen as one of the most difficult and underdeveloped aspects of student engagement in the UK. The University and SUBU have worked hard to build a system that works for both the students and the University in improving this area. Principally, School representatives have been created from within the student representative system, who work with SUBU to create termly 'Synoptic Reports' of student issues for each School-level meeting. These reports do not introduce new feedback, but synthesise the themes and issues of wider concern from all the feedback across each School. SUBU then synthesises these reports into one University-wide report for the SUBU officers to present at institutional level. In order to manage this system effectively, SUBU works extremely closely with the Schools and the University at senior level. This partnership approach has had significant impact over the last few years. Students are now represented on the majority of University committees at all levels. This includes SUBU sabbatical officers as well as student representatives. The SUBU President is a member of the University Board and the SUBU President and the SUBU Vice-President (Education) are members of Senate. Sabbatical officers are members of Senate standing committees. At School level, elected student representatives are members of both School and programme-level committees. Student representation has been extended recently to include the SUBU Vice-President (Education) as a member of School-level committees. The Student Experience Champions act as an initial point of liaison and support for studentfacing activities. They consider and respond to feedback, engage in student forums and

3 other meetings and are members of the Student Voice Committee (SVC) - a committee that meets regularly and includes representatives from all Schools, professional services and SUBU. The SVC reports directly to one of the Senate committees and as the Student Experience Champions are also members of this committee, this helps ensure that the student voice is heard, reported and acted upon rapidly where appropriate. At partner institutions there is a similar type of student representation system. Although the mechanisms are different the principle of acquiring and responding to student feedback is the same. Most partners operate a higher education student forum or similar and the membership includes a SUBU sabbatical officer. Feedback from these forums is a standing item at Partnership Boards. A SUBU-led ContriBUte scheme was introduced in to involve student volunteers in projects and focus groups to influence new University initiatives. Students are engaged in other aspects of the quality assurance processes to influence change. They meet with evaluation panels for reviews and are encouraged to be involved in/consulted with by framework/programme teams in programme development and reviews. A SUBU sabbatical officer is part of School Quality Audit and Partner Review panels. SUBU sabbaticals also meet informally with members of the University Executive and Leadership Teams. Framework leaders/programme coordinators are encouraged to have informal meetings with their student representatives, in addition to attendance at more formal committees or forums, to facilitate dialogue. In order to assure they are effective in their role, SUBU provides training for student representatives. SUBU trains as many representatives face-to-face as possible. In more than 80 per cent of student representatives were trained, and in the figure was 96 per cent. All representatives trained by SUBU are given a branded purple hoody to create a recognisable group around the University. Nearly 50 per cent of representatives are trained on one day within one month of the start of the year, ensuring that the 'purple army' becomes visible very quickly. It was previously identified that student representatives sometimes had difficulty in obtaining a wide range of student views and presenting a representative view. Specific training on the use of questionnaires is now provided with support from the SUBU Research Team. This has improved the quality of information provided at both programme and School level. SUBU has developed a centralised simple survey tool, the Student Opinion Survey (SOS), which is available to all student representatives to collect student feedback in a similar manner using the same template. This enables all representatives to collect and represent students' views effectively at a programme level, as well as enabling the effective synthesising of these reports for School-level, and institution-level committees. Training from SUBU also ensures that representatives do not focus on surveys as the only way to gather feedback. An all year round 'Rep Development Scheme' run by SUBU offers ongoing training and support for representatives in developing their skills at being effective 'fully rounded' representatives for students. Representatives who engage with the Representative Development Scheme and keep a development log of how they have used their learning in the delivery of their role can earn Bronze, Silver and Gold awards for their efforts. SUBU is recognised nationally as demonstrating innovation and good practice in this area having engaged in a project with QAA to identify and disseminate good practice in student feedback approaches that illustrate student engagement and the contribution of such to enhancement.

4 The University uses a range of mechanisms for both obtaining and responding to student feedback. Regular surveys including NSS, Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey and Postgraduate Research Experience Survey are carried out. The SOS is an internal survey aimed at all students studying at the University and partners with the exception of final year undergraduate students (for whom the National Student Survey is the focus). These surveys combine with unit level feedback and student representation feedback to form a picture of strengths and areas of concern, at both programme and University level. Outcomes of surveys are analysed at School and institutional level and this informs School enhancement activity including the Education and Student Experience Plans. Survey outcomes are considered by School quality and academic committees and at University-level committees. Partners are asked to identify annual NSS targets and performance is monitored through Partnership Boards. Feedback is required for all units and acted upon locally. Feedback is requested mid-cycle for all programmes and at the end of the unit for some. Method, outcomes and action taken in response to feedback are recorded via annual reporting mechanisms along with other monitoring information. Unit monitoring reports are required for the annual reports on programme monitoring. There are numerous approaches to informing students of how their feedback has been taken into consideration/acted upon. These include: School 'you said, this happened', responses directly to student representatives in School and other relevant committees, the VLE, physical noticeboards, and (for significant changes or investments) via the big screens in the main University atrium. Once a term, SUBU also runs a 'Speak Week' which focuses on the student feedback process, and particularly raises awareness of what has happened following student feedback. Key features ensuring success Many factors have led to the success of the student engagement process at the University, but there are 10 key reasons why we believe it has been so successful. 1. A commitment to partnership working from both the University and SUBU at every level, with the mutual desire to create the best student experience possible. 2. The nurturing of a culture of student engagement as a defining characteristic of institutional life. 3. Keeping the system as simple as possible for the student. 4. Openness and honesty on all sides, and the acknowledgement that we will not always agree with each other, but we will always work with each other in a trusting way to find a way through any issue. 5. The need for excellent and varied communication. 6. The involvement of students in as much of the committee structure of the University as possible. 7. The responsiveness of University staff to students' issues as they are raised. 8. The creation of an evidence-based representation system that ensures the student voice is heard effectively at every level in the institution, from programme team to University Board.

5 9. The investment in staff support and prioritisation of student representation and student engagement by SUBU as their absolute core purpose. 10. Student experience champions based in each School. All 10 of these elements are documented within one key policy and procedure of the University which is jointly owned by SUBU and the Educational Development and Quality Department of the University. Evaluation Ultimately, the student engagement system at the University is a partnership between the University, SUBU and the students. We have developed mechanisms for the ongoing evaluation of the system with these stakeholders. The University The SVC, with representatives from academic Schools, professional services and SUBU, meets six times a year. As the name suggests, this committee coordinates all aspects of the student voice at the University. Policies and procedures associated with promoting the contribution of students to quality assurance and enhancement are reviewed annually. During reviews of unit feedback mechanisms and also student representation were undertaken to create a new student engagement and feedback: policy and procedure which incorporated emerging good practice, including increased visibility and embedding of the roles of Student Experience Champion and the School-level student forums. Along with SUBU, the SVC is considering the future for student feedback mechanism with a view to making the whole system simpler and easier for students to engage with, and ensuring a seamless service between SUBU and the University. It is expected that a new system will emerge that fulfills the requirements of all stakeholders while simplifying the experience for students. The Students' Union All training delivered by SUBU to student representatives is evaluated annually and new developments are planned in line with suggestions from previous years. SUBU has seen increasing satisfaction with its training each year for the last three years, currently 94 per cent of those attending enjoy the training, and 99 per cent are satisfied with the learning. SUBU is currently undertaking a full review of its approach to student representation, to further develop the role of the representatives and their partnership with the University. As well as coordinating with the SVC review mentioned above, the SUBU review will engage with students, representatives and academic staff to inform the way forward. Students SUBU has as its vision 'to have a positive impact on all Bournemouth University students by 2016' and is supported in this vision by the University. The identification of 'hard to reach' student groups through analysis of internal surveys and key data from external data, such as NSS, is key to making this happen. SUBU is steadily developing strategies to reach all sectors of the student body using this evidence-based approach.

6 In the summer of 2014 SUBU and the University will work together to implement a new student engagement survey as part of a Higher Education Academy pilot. This will be a development of the partnership that SUBU and the University already has for surveys where we ask the students together about their student experience. The whole approach to the development of the representation system is very much an agile one. However, there is an informal agreement between the University and SUBU that each development will be given two years to bed in before the next development is proposed. This ensures that changes are well considered and fit for purpose. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education 2014 Registered charity numbers and SC037786

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