The THES Student Satisfaction Survey came out this week. It is based on information from 13,000 full time undergraduates. Although this is quite a large sample size, it does suggest that there is an average of just 100-200 students taking part at each university. The data was gathered between September 2009 and July 2010 – too early for either the 2012 funding details or their impact on students to be seen.

The Open University is not included as a result of the focus on full time students – so we can take a disinterested look at which HEIs do well. In general terms the Russell and 1994 Groups do consistently well. The ‘winner’ is Loughbourough University (for the fifth year running) followed by Sheffield University, the University of East Anglia and Cambridge University. The two most improved are the University of Sunderland and the University of Chester.

Although the OU is not included I was interested to see which factors students had chosen as the basis for the survey items as we are just as concerned about the student experience as any other university.

Many of the 21 factors (all selected by students) do not apply to the Open University as a provider of blended distance learning. However, if aspects such as having a cheap shop, bar or amenities on campus or having good sports facilities are eliminated we are left with a list of features which might relate to the Open University.

These are:

  • high quality staff/lecturers
  • helpful and interested staff
  • well structured courses
  • good support and welfare
  • good relationship with teaching staff
  • good industry connections
  • tuition in a small group
  • good library with good opening hours
  • fair workload

Relating these nine features to Open University modules, including the Openings modules that are based in the Centre for Inclusion and Curriculum, means that we have a ‘check-list’ of what is needed for students to have a satisfying and enjoyable experience. In the context of Openings, perhaps the only one that does not translate easily is ‘good industry connections’. I guess, given our focus on widening participation, that our equivalent would be the links with have (through community outreach) with potential students.

Although we do have an excellent library, available to students 24 hours a day electronically, this is probably less of a concern for Openings students. This leaves us with three sorts of factors. The first concerns the relationships students have with staff. Students, understandably, want staff to be ‘high quality, helpful and interested’. They also want ‘tuition in a small group’. The second group relates to the courses being studied. Students in the UK generally look for ‘well structured courses’ and ‘a fair workload’. I have no reason to suppose the Openings students are any different in this respect. The final aspect is represented by students’ concern that ‘personal requirements are met’.

All the features which students identify in the survey are aspects of Openings modules which we see as vital. In particular we re concerned to offer modules which are ‘well-structured’ and have a ‘fair workload’. Perhaps even more importantly, for students who may be unsure about whether university study is for them, is the question of the help and support provided by tutors who teach on Openings modules. Our tutors are selected to try and ensure that they have the skills and sensitivity needed to work with students who may be short of confidence and have limited or unhelpful educational experience. We also monitor their written feedback to students to ensure that their teaching is helpful and supportive.

Nevertheless it is clear that for our Openings students, the quality of the support they receive and the way in which they view the relationship with their tutor is crucial. It would be good to secure a better picture of how these relationships work and what could be done to enhance them. I think I can see an interesting research project here.

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