In recent years, it’s become increasingly apparent that core to a university’s mission is the enhancement of the student experience and the need to reflect this in institutional policy and practice. Particularly in the aftermath of COVID, more than ever, students require specific types of support that may not have been considered in what we now half-jokingly refer to as the ‘Before Times’.
Co-Host of The Interview, Charles Sin, spoke to Brian Green, Deputy Associate Principal for Academic Quality and Student Experience at the University of Strathclyde (UOS) about the importance of listening to students and ensuring their voices have an impact on how the institution is run.
I graduated as a teacher and taught in high school before moving into a university environment. So I’ve had a lifelong commitment to education, learning and teaching, and enhancing academic standards and quality. As Deputy Associate Principal my role is geared towards creating the best possible experience for our students, whether on campus or online. It’s fundamental to me. I’ve had various roles as a program and course leader and I’ve been a Head of Department for six years before moving into faculty-wide roles that focused on SE and academic quality. Core to my current portfolio is institution-wide responsibility for the enhancement of the SE. It’s something that drives, motivates, and keeps me enthused.
Core to our success in responding to the pandemic was an increased emphasis on the quality of communication we had with our students. We recognised the need to support our students and to act on the feedback we were receiving from them. Student engagement held up well, and we worked hard to make sure our students had access to the resources they needed. We took a very flexible approach regarding personal circumstances to support our students and encouraged them to tell us when they were experiencing challenges, and we’ve continued with that.
We’d already made significant investments in our campus (over £1bn between 2008-2025) to create a first-class environment for our students and staff and to enhance SE. This has helped support a full and welcome transition back to campus post-pandemic. The popularity of our programs has remained very high. We’ve diversified our portfolio, and the number of applicants, particularly international students, has continued to increase. Our library is extremely busy, which is a strong indicator that students are fully back on campus. The same is true also for StrathUnion and Strathclyde Sport, again strong indicators of high engagement. During COVID, we completed a major infrastructure project in the Learning & Teaching Building, creating an integrated hub for learning and teaching, student-facing support services and the student union. The Learning and Teaching Building is extremely popular and very busy; another excellent sign of highly engaged students.
At Strathclyde, we take great pride in our values-led socially progressive approach, which means we have a high regard for the safety, security, and well-being of our entire university community. This includes staff, students, and visitors to campus. We have created Strathclyde Safe360, an integrated, zero-tolerance approach to gender-based violence, harassment, health, safety, and well-being, and tackling unacceptable behaviour on campus. We encourage people to report and support. Students are also fully integrated into the decision-making process. We have a number of staff across the institution specifically trained in handling these issues. We have also tried to reflect this in terms of policy development. For example, we’ve recently updated our discipline and reporting policies, behavioural expectations and several HR-related policies around well-being, support and safeguarding.
In Scotland, we have Enhancement Led Institutional Review (ELIR) overseen by QAA Scotland. This is a peer-review process that takes place every five years. An independent, expert panel visits the institution and reviews all aspects of academic standards, the quality of learning and teaching and institutional commitment to the enhancement of the student experience. In the 2019 ELIR review report, Strathclyde received a number of “Commendations”, one of which was the “Availability and use of data to inform decision making”. We have continued to advance this activity across our provision, including an institution-wide rollout of module evaluation alongside building on our earlier Learning Analytics activity.
One of the challenges for Learning Analytics is how to bring all the relevant information together in a way that ensures that the right people have access to the appropriate information presented in an informative, intuitive and user-friendly manner to support our students.
One of the challenges for Learning Analytics is how to bring all the relevant information together in a way that ensures that the right people have access to the appropriate information presented in an informative, intuitive and user-friendly manner to support our students (and staff). It’s still a work in progress, and our project team is working in partnership with our students, Faculties and professional services teams to develop integrated “student insights” dashboards for use by our programme teams. We’re also mindful of the critical importance of using data appropriately, and so this work has been supported by the development of an ethically aware, values-led Learning Analytics Policy. As Strathclyde insights continue to develop, we plan to further integrate an increasing range of complimentary data sources, for example, VLE engagement, student surveys and module evaluation. Exciting times with more to follow.
Many colleagues across the University are well-engaged in their respective disciplines and across the Higher Education sector nationally and internationally. The insights we gain from this, combined with our understanding of our institutional vision, mission and distinctiveness, are beneficial and highly informative. In addition to our ongoing reporting and reflection, our Education Strategy Committee dedicates time at the end of every academic year to review the current year and to plan and agree on priorities for the year ahead. This gives us a chance to reflect, refresh, and plan internally. In turn, this informs staff development planning and our learning and teaching forum events throughout the year, which allow us to regularly examine topical issues and priorities for the institution.
Also, Scotland is a small enough country to facilitate collaboration across our universities whilst respecting institutional distinctiveness. We have networks to promote collaborative working, meaning we can quickly get a sector-wide understanding of prominent issues, key developments, and forthcoming challenges. This helps us scan the horizon externally and make sure what we do remains fresh, up-to-date, and focused.
Stay well engaged, talk to your students and involve them in decision-making. Discuss things with them. Consult with students and embed mechanisms to make sure their voices are being heard and acted on.