VP View: Professor Anthony Smith, UCL Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)
13 February 2019
Help your students understand how they can bring about change at UCL
Our students told us what they wanted from the new Student Centre and, now that it’s about to open, we can celebrate what has been achieved. But how do we assure ourselves that students understand their voice has been heard and is shaping not just their time at UCL but the experience for future generations?
The Student Centre opens next week, marking the culmination of more than 5 years of planning and construction. It is a wonderful building, delivered by a great team, and I am very proud of what they have achieved.
The Student Centre is a powerful example of how we have listened to what our students want, worked in partnership to create a shared vision and delivered a building which I hope will inspire students to think, study and learn in new ways long into the future.
As far back as 2012, students were being consulted on what they wanted from the Student Centre – the Bartlett’s Professor Alexi Marmot, whose work shows how education spaces can support learning and knowledge creation, ran workshops and a survey to capture student priorities for this landmark development. And of course we have drawn on data from our surveys (National Student Survey, Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey, New to UCL, Student Experience Survey), on feedback obtained through the annual survey of Staff Student Consultative Committees, and through more informal mechanisms in Library Services and Departments. From the start, Students’ Union sabbatical officers have sat on the Project Board overseeing the project. They continue to represent our students on the working group that is making sure Library Services, Information Services, Student Registry Services provide a joined up operation that delivers on student needs.
Our students’ priority has been flexible social study space - clearly defined formal and informal areas, with bookable space for group work. Our students are not passive consumers of information. Through a UCL research-based education, our students learn by critical thought and analysis, solving problems and collaborating with each other. So this building provides spaces for individual study, group work, socialising and connecting digitally with the wider community. These spaces will enable interdisciplinary work and supporting a continual flow of formal and informal learning. Such collaborative learning not only helps our students while they are at UCL. It develops their communication, team-working and negotiation skills. And we know that good social connections are predictors of job satisfaction and effectiveness at work (Putnam, 2000: 90).
Our students told us they wanted an information centre, to help them manage their finances, academic life, and health and wellbeing. And so, on the first floor, we have the new Student Enquiries Centre (including the Disability, Mental Health and Wellbeing team from UCL Student Support and Wellbeing) offering the support our students need to make the most of their time at UCL. We also have two Quiet Contemplation Rooms. And we have lockers and showers, places for students to eat their own food as well as a café. The Student Centre will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
By sharing their views, and thinking creatively about what was possible, our students have shaped UCL for years to come. So one of the main messages to our students as the Student Centre opens is ‘this is how your voice makes a difference’.
This message is equally important at department level. In fact, we need to make sure our students understand how they are bringing about change in every part of UCL.
We can tell if these messages are being heard by our undergraduate students by looking at scores for student voice, specifically the answers to the following questions in the National Student Survey and our own Student Experience Survey:
23. I have had the right opportunities to provide feedback on my course.
24. Staff value students’ views and opinions about the course.
25. It is clear how students’ feedback on the course has been acted on.
We offer our students lots of opportunities to give their opinions. Students’ views and suggestions in their responses to the surveys have led to real and significant changes at UCL, including the new Student Centre and for example increased video recording of lectures. You can see more of the changes made in response to student feedback here.
But it is not always clear to them how their feedback is being acted on. This can be because it takes time to enact their ideas – redesigning the assessment structure of a whole programme is complex; creating a vibrant student led research society takes time. Or perhaps they are giving feedback on a modules that they have completed and are therefore unaware that their ideas are being taken up and put into practice the year after they graduate. It can of course be that change in response to their feedback is neither possible nor desirable and we should explain that too.
So how do we keep their issues ‘live’, so that they know they’ve been heard and that change is on the way?
The Student Engagement Team in my office, led by Sally Mackenzie, is about to launch a project which will review how the voices of our students are heard and responded to across UCL. The project will consider the ways in which we collect feedback, how we track the resulting activities and share outcomes with students. We will be inviting a number of departments to meet with us to get a broad range of views and backgrounds. To inform the project, two student fellows are investigating how Student Academic Reps communicate with their cohorts, liaising with their departments to track issues and reporting on solutions and change. The information gathered will help us to develop best practice guides, tracking tools and further resources for our departments.
If your department can offer examples of great practice, or you would like support from the Student Engagement Team to develop processes for tracking and communicating change projects to your students, please contact email@example.com
‘Closing the loop’ has become a cliche, but it is a powerful signal that we take listening and working in partnership seriously.