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Adapting to change in HE: Five steps to improve the student experience

In an increasingly competitive environment, universities are under growing pressure to improve the quality of the student experience.

Delegates attended the Enhancing Student Experience Conference 2018 to hear how the HE sector can attract and retain students by delivering better value, on campus, in halls of residence and in the lecture theatre.

One: Be prepared for change

Uncertainty about the implications of Brexit, the introduction of the Office for Students and the impact of disruptive technology on the labour market mean there has never been a more uncertain time to be in higher education.

 According to conference chair Dr Sam Grogan, pro vice-chancellor of student experience at the University of Salford, students will be attracted to universities that prove they can adapt to this challenging environment.

“We are experiencing change on multiple fronts, the changing landscape of policy and reforms even in the last couple of months means it’s almost becoming difficult to keep up.

“The typical machinery of a university runs at a different pace to the rest of the world. Maybe that is how it should be, but in some instances that is not a good thing.

“Universities that stay the same will find themselves outpaced in the next five years.”

Two: Relearning how to teach

“We’ve never been in such a globalised world and we’ve never been in such a digitalised world. How do we prepare students not only to survive in this world but thrive in it?” said Ray Land, professor of higher education at Durham University.

“There’s an irony that we are preparing students for uncertainty but there is crystal clarity in everything we do, from assessment and strategies to saying ‘this is what you will get for your money’.

“There was a time when we knew what information was in what knowledge field and we could say with certainty what qualities are needed to become an accountant or a medic. But now it is more ambiguous.

“We need to produce people who can make informed and a reasonable judgement when faced with an ocean of information. We need people who can make good decisions whether they are jazz musicians or surgeons.”

Three: Listen to students

“Learning from complaints is really important,” said Tracy Allen of the Office for the Independent Adjudicator.

The organisation, which serves as an adjudicator of last resort in disputes between universities and students, has dealt with 15,000 complaints since it was set up in 2005.

“Culture is one of the biggest things, people get very defensive around complaints,” she added. “It’s not about the number of complaints you receive but what you do with them. Take them as critical feedback and learn what you can from them.”

Four: View students as individuals

“For some reason, students come into university and we see them as a number, not as a person,” said Michelle Morgan, associate dean of student experience at Bournemouth University.

“I don’t think the ‘typical student’ has ever existed, I just think we nether bothered to realise the complexity of that student.

“The problem is that students are expected to shape around the university rather than the university responding to the needs of the student.”

Five: Help students stay safe and well

Statistics show that students are twice as likely to be the victims of mugging or other violent crime, making campus security a key priority for the higher education sector.

Added to this, a five-fold increase in students disclosing mental health conditions has prompted calls for universities to do more to care for the mental wellbeing of students as well as their physical safety.

“All universities are doing different things. We know that some institutions are doing good things but there are some quite bad practices going on,” said Andrew Wootton, director of the Design Against Crime Solution Centre at the University of Salford.

Mr Wootton is one of the developers behind ProtectEd, a not for profit membership organisation and accreditation service that aims to improve student safety and wellbeing by promoting best practice.

“We take a 360 degree look at the student experience,” he said. “That includes what happens on campus during the daytime but also the flip side of the student experience that can have a negative impact.”

Salford Professional Development’s portfolio of briefings, conferences and training courses bring leading experts together with those working on the front line of the education sector. See a full list of our events – here.

The Education Estates and Facilities Expo 2018 will take place on June 26. Book your delegate tickets – here

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