Teaching & Learning


Departments gain from first year of Annual Student Experience Review Intensive

15 November 2016

UCL departments that took part in Annual Student Experience Review (ASER) Intensive programme 2015 made significant improvement to their education provision, shown by rising satisfaction in NSS 2016.

ASER is an annual process that gives departments strategic oversight of, and responsibility for, the academic standards and quality of their programmes. Introduced in 2015 to replace Annual Monitoring, ASER asks departments to evaluate key sets of data about student performance, student experience and academic standards (namely student progression and awarding data, student survey responses and External Examiners' Reports) to see what is working well and what needs improving.

84% of final year undergraduates are satisfied with their overall experience at UCL – a rise of 1% on last year – according to the NSS results released in August. However, the headline figures disguise wide variation in performance at a departmental level. Some UCL departments perform consistently well, and 2016 was no exception, with 98% satisfaction rates recorded in the UCL Slade School of Fine Art, UCL Institute of Archaeology and UCL Anthropology

Departments that return lower satisfaction rates than the UCL average are offered a package of support and guidance through the ASER Intensive programme. Departments participating in scheme, now in its second year, have seen rising rates of satisfaction in NSS.

One such is UCL Chemical Engineering, which improved its overall satisfaction rate by 11%, seeing a rise on every metric of the NSS, with its greatest gains in Academic Support (+18%) and Assessment and Feedback (+17%).

Chemical Engineering Deputy Head of Department (Education), Professor Eva Sorensen said: ‘We were struggling with the combination of a sharp increase in student numbers and assessment and support procedures that were not suitable for larger cohorts. The advice and support from College through the ASER process, and in particular from our colleagues in the Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching, has helped us develop more efficient and student-focus processes. We still have some way to go until we have reached the level we feel we should be at, but are continuing working with our students to achieve this.’

UCL School of Pharmacy made an even greater leap of 16% in overall satisfaction, again improving on every metric, with greatest gains in Organisation and Management (17%) and Assessment and Feedback (12%).

Director of Academic Services Derfel Owen, who developed and introduced the ASER process to UCL in 2015-16, said: “Chemical Engineering and the School of Pharmacy engaged very constructively with ASER last year. They worked closely with their students to work out what was going well and what needed to improve. They made changes to improve processes, information and communication, particularly around assessment and feedback. Crucially, they made it clear to their students what action had been taken. In both cases, this paid off in their NSS results.”

Professor Mike Munday, Vice-Dean (Education) in the Faculty of Life Sciences: ‘We were very pleased to have progressed from satisfaction rates significantly below the UCL average to 5% above it. That’s not to say we have completely cracked areas of underperformance, and we are working hard to maintain the momentum by working closely with students and colleagues in Academic Services and the Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching. The ASER process provides a much clearer framework that not only looks back at data but has strategies for improvement built into it.’

Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs) said: ‘The NSS is a valuable way of mapping our progress towards our goal of an outstanding student experience across the board. Some NSS metrics will also be used in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).  This means the outcomes are as important as ever in safeguarding our reputation, so that we can continue to attract the brightest talent to study with us.  It’s great to see the hard work of our departments creating positive change – thank you.’

Find out more about the UCL School of Pharmacy’s strategies for improving student experience.