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How can departments make the most of institutional surveys and feedback?

Dr Siobhan Sen Gupta explains how the UCL Institute of Women’s Health encourages students to feedback on their experience through the New to UCL survey & Postgraduate Taught Experience survey (PTES).

23 June 2017

With one of the university’s highest response rates, the Institute of Women’s Health (IfWH) has found that the most successful way to get students to fill in surveys has been to allocate a slot of time in the timetable for them to be completed.

Staff encourage students to feedback through these mechanisms in order to understand what changes might be needed for future students, or can be implemented immediately. Issues and themes raised in survey responses are discussed in staff and student consultative meetings where a possible solution is considered. Regular contact time and a small cohort of 40 students, as well as a shared common room in close proximity to a seminar room where almost all lectures take place, have enabled face-to-face encouragement from staff. This also helped to assure students that their participation in surveys is valued and essential to constant improvement of the student experience.

Electronic surveys allow anonymity and quick evaluation, in contrast to the paper-based ways of gathering feedback they have replaced. Institutional surveys are co-ordinated by the UCL Office of the Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs) which has a dedicated Student Engagement team working with departments to promote surveys and digest the results for them.

UCL’s ‘New to UCL’ survey, launched last year and aimed at all students at the start of their UCL experience, gives students the opportunity to feed back about issues they have found difficult, as well as their positive experience so far. The survey has helped the IfWH to tackle issues which in the past students may have struggled on with alone, such as a lack of information or the need for more support. It has also helped the Institute pick up on non-departmental concerns which can then be taken forward on students’ behalf. The survey gives many students the voice they need to express thoughts about their new environment.

A crucial element ensuring the continued high response rates has been for staff to make clear the importance of considered answers to surveys when asking students to complete them. There is the potential for departments to get overloaded with feedback as students might not realise how much their individual comments get discussed and escalated. They are also made aware that they can feed back directly to staff about immediate issues.

For the future, the department is considering facilitating discussion between student representatives and future students about how the process works. Students have indicated that it would be useful to hear from their peers how surveys work and how issues have been dealt with in the past. Some new students might not be aware how immediately their feedback can result in action so these conversations will help them take survey participation seriously and consider what issues they want to raise. 

There is also the possibility of bringing in alumni to talk about their experience at UCL and how they influenced change through taking part in surveys. As they have recently gone through the same experience as current students, they are best placed to talk about how changes from previous years enhanced their experience. This in turn encourages students to think about the potential to influence things for students to come.