ACADEMIC PRIORITIES

As a Union we are committed to helping students get the very best from their time at University. This means focussing our energy on the things that matter most so all students are supported to achieve the highest levels of personal academic success.

Informed by feedback from the National Student Survey (NSS) and Brighton Student Survey (BSS) as well as what students tell us, we have identified 10 areas that must be addressed as a priority if we are going to truly make a difference to the quality of the educational experience of our members.

1) FEEDBACK IN 20 WORKING DAYS

Why is this important?

We have the best chance of doing our best work when we know how well we are doing and what we must do to improve. Quality feedback that gives good guidance, received at a time when we can apply the learning before being assessed again help us do this.

Why do we believe this?

In the National Students’ Survey Brighton currently sits 3 percent behind the sector on the question “Feedback on my work has been prompt”.

The University should begin monitoring the implementation of the 20 working day feedback policy immediately and inform students of this. 

This recommendation is an example of the importance of measuring the implementation and success of policies. Central committees of the University can hold no confidence that the 20 working day feedback policy is being enacted. This is less risky example but the future quality assurance changes will mean that University Boards of Governors will want to be satisfied that whilst responsibility for implementing policy may be devolved from committees and left with individuals/departments, responsibility for measuring the impact of a policy must sit within an institutional committee (preferably the same one that created/sponsored the original policy).

For the NSS question “Feedback on my work has helped me clarify things I did not understand” Brighton currently sits 3 percent behind the sector.

The Students’ Union makes the recommendation that a system should be introduced across the university where students can request that particular areas of their assessment are considered for specific feedback. This is an opportunity for the University to implement practice that helps students identify for themselves the type of feedback they need in order to help them clarify things they do not understand. The implementation of this should be uniform and monitored.

The new NSS question is “I have received helpful comments on my work” and the University should work hard to allow students to identify the kind of feedback that they would find helpful in advance.

What are we asking?

So we’re asking the University to make sure feedback is returned within 20 working days. Each school will monitor and report how they meet the 20 working day policy to Academic Board twice per academic year. A system should be introduced across the university where students can request that particular areas of their assessment are considered for specific feedback.

RESPONSE: DECEMBER 2016

All assessed work is normally expected to be returned within 20 working days. The timeliness of feedback will be monitored at School level and reported centrally; Schools will be expected to investigate any delays. Academic Board will receive an annual report. Feed-forward practices will be piloted across the University where students can request specific comment.

RESPONSE: JUNE 2017

A series of summits and School workshops have been held to share best practices. Schools report their approach to monitoring of delayed feedback to the PVC. In the most recent Brighton Student Survey there was a modest (2%) increase in satisfaction with assessment and feedback.

2) ANONYMOUS MARKING ON ASSESSED WORK

Why is this important?

Evidence shows that BME students are concerned that they receive lower marks than their white counterparts. They are often less confident about the fairness of assessment tasks. Anonymous marking for exams and coursework help to ensure equality and fairness for all students.

Why do we believe this?

In the National Student Survey Brighton currently sits 5 percent behind the sector on the question “Assessment arrangements and marking have been fair”.

The Students’ Union understands this was an academic project that was already being considered by the Academic Services team. The Students’ Union would like to see movement on this issue and believes it’s necessary to protect both academics and students.

Responding to this recommendation should be an opportunity for the University to clarify how assessment arrangements are fair, are blind-double marked and are subject to scrutiny from an external examiner. However, there have now been instances in the sector where academic judgement has been overturned and anonymous marking is becoming the sector norm.

Consideration should be given as to how high quality, tailored feedback can be retained whilst the ability of the lecturer to know who’s work they are marking should be minimised wherever possible, perhaps through the feed-forward recommendations, or through feedback meetings, or a more structured approach to giving feedback.

What are we asking?

We’re telling the University marking should be anonymous across all courses. Where this proves impossible courses must seek special dispensation from academic board explaining why it is not possible and what they have done to ensure marking is conducted with no bias.

RESPONSE: DECEMBER 2016

Anonymous marking exists for written examinations; for many other assessments this is not practicable and is not the sector norm.  The University operates a moderation process to avoid bias: all assessments contributing to classification are moderated both internally and by an external examiner to ensure consistency and fairness in marking, and all major dissertations are blind double-marked.  During the current academic session we are reviewing procedures to make more transparent the protocols used to support our moderation processes.

RESPONSE: JUNE 2017

All Examination Boards will operate with a complete statistical analysis of marks to identify marking extremes. The University moderation process is based on sector practice and will be reviewed for consistency of application during the coming academic year.

3) CLEAR LEARNING OBJECTIVES

Why is this important?

Too many students are not sure what is being asked of them in their assessed work. It is essential that assessment criteria are clear, understood and achievable. Success can’t rely on nebulous factors or be based on personal preferences.

Why do we believe this?

In the National Student Survey Brighton currently sits 5 percent behind the sector on the question “The criteria used in marking have been clear in advance”.

This recommendation provides an opportunity for the University to clarify practice as this is likely the case across all courses and therefore other reasons may exist for the poor scores in this area but until the University can say with 100% certainty that all students received succinct and accessible marking criteria that were linked to the learning objectives. Then this base-level recommendation cannot be glossed over. The Students’ Union recommends an audit and scrutiny at a school level.

What are we asking?

We’re asking the University to make sure all assessment types will have an assignment brief that is standardised across the University, with learning objectives and marking criteria incorporated in a succinct and accessible way.

RESPONSE: DECEMBER 2016

There are University-wide marking criteria/grading descriptors currently in use. The planned curriculum review (see recommendation 6) will establish future practices and standardise assignment briefs.

RESPONSE: JUNE 2017

The curriculum review is in progress and assessment is closely scrutinised during course approval. Additionally the University is completing a set of assessment and feedback principles to support academic members of staff and students with assessment and feedback practices which include assessment information and clear criteria.

4) CLEAR PLACEMENT INFORMATION

Why is this important?

Thousands of students, particularly in health and education, spend significant time on placement. It is essential that students on placement know what they are required to do to succeed, who is there to help them and how their placement activities contribute to their overall degree.

Why do we believe this?

In the National Student Survey Brighton currently sits 7 percent behind the sector on the question “I received sufficient preparatory information prior to my placement”. Brighton also currently sits 6 percent behind the sector on the question “My Practice supervisor(s) understood how my placement(s) related to the broader requirements of my course”.

Whilst the NSS results are only from placement students on NHS courses, the Students’ Union is aware of anecdotal comments from returning Course Reps that the placement experience of some students isn’t at a satisfactory standard. Students are not always receiving information about the assessment type, or their certificates or what the actual practical experiences are like once students are on placement. Therefore whilst it’s important to focus on improving the placement information for NHS courses specifically, the University should broaden any improvements so most students benefit.

The University should review the content of all placement packs, ensure that they abide by any relevant parts of the Placement Policy but also create a mandatory minimum standard of information. This will help ensure that all placement students are given sufficient preparatory information prior to their placement.

What are we asking?

So we’re asking the University to work to improve the information it gives to placement students.

RESPONSE: DECEMBER 2016

Placement information is currently provided to students and employees. The University will audit this material for completeness and quality with a view to establishing minimum standards.

RESPONSE: JUNE 2017

All Schools offering placements provide guidelines. For NHS placements localised circumstances may delay announcement of some placements. Further feedback is being sought where placements are a key part of the course.

5) EMPLOYABILITY & SKILLS DEVELOPMENT

Why is this important?

One of the most important outcomes of University is the ability to get a job that inspires us and allows us to use and develop the skills and knowledge we gain on our degree. We have the best chance of doing this is professional skills and work placement opportunities are integrated in our courses.

Why do we believe this?

There are a number of questions in the National Student Survey where Brighton sits behind the sector average:

  1. “As a result of my course I believe I have increased my career prospects” Brighton currently sits 7 percent behind the sector on this question.
  2. “I was allocated placement(s) suitable for my course” Brighton currently sits 7 percent behind the sector on this question.
  3. “Good advice is available on further study opportunities” Brighton currently sits 10 percent behind the sector on this question.
  4. “Good advice is available for making career choices” Brighton currently sits 6 percent behind the sector on this question.

The Students’ Union sees this recommendation as an opportunity for the University to review and clarify how course content does improve career prospects and if necessary make any changes to enhance these opportunities.

The Students’ Union sees that incorporating a real-world practice-based placement into each course would allow all Brighton students to feel as though their career prospects have been improved.

What are we asking?

So we’re asking the University to actively embed employability skills within the curriculum. All courses should offer a placement opportunity and students’ should have access to subject specific careers advice.

RESPONSE: DECEMBER 2016

Over the next 18 months, all Schools will review their curricula under a common framework which will include the requirement for employability and placement opportunities.

RESPONSE: JUNE 2017

Curriculum review for all undergraduate programmes is in progress which requires courses to demonstrate how they align to the theme of employability. A student engagement plan is under development which includes employability opportunities. An Employability Skills Framework is in use to explain the skills derived from courses and other activities. Degree apprenticeship schemes are under development.

6) NO EXTRA COURSE COSTS

Why is this important?

The fee should be the fee. It’s not fair if you have to pay again for essential equipment or resources in order to complete your degree. Where there are additional costs, these must be made clear in the prospectus so future students can make an informed choice about where to study and at what price.

Why do we believe this?

In the National Student Survey Brighton currently sits 5 percent behind the sector on the question “Learning materials made available on my course have enhanced my learning”.

The Students’ Union believes that clarifying and testing the expectations in this area is important for two reasons. Firstly, the Consumer Markets Authority stipulates that information regarding course costs should be clear at the point of recruitment. Secondly, the University should be secure in why certain course costs are included and why others aren’t and there should be equality across the institution.

The SU believes that investigating and comparing itself with the sector will allow the University to include more materials as a core part of students’ courses and therefore enhance the learning of students.

What are we asking?

We’re asking the University to make sure all learning materials are included as part of the fee. Where this is not the case additional course costs should be made clear in prospectus materials and on the UCAS profile of the course.

RESPONSE: DECEMBER 2016

The University will conduct a review in consultation with student representatives to identify included and exceptional fee items. It will ensure clarity in its course information.

RESPONSE: JUNE 2017

Student information identifies additional costs. Working with the BSU, these costs will be reviewed.

7) IMPROVE MODULE EVALUATION SURVEYS

Why is this important?

On the whole we study a series of modules that make up our courses. If this is the unit of delivery, it should also be the unit of improvement. By understanding and improving modules we have the best chance of making the improvements that matter most to students.

Why do we believe this?

In the National Student Survey Brighton currently sits 6 percent behind the sector on the question “I have had adequate opportunities to provide feedback on all elements of my course”.

The Students’ Union notes that this was a proposed project in previous years and the Brighton Students Survey work was a stepping stone to implementation of module surveys. The SU feels as though it is increasingly important that students are able to provide feedback multiple times about their course and a standardised module evaluation survey will allow the University to feel secure that students have been given this opportunity. The SU believes it is important that responses to these issues are reported centrally as this will provide the University and the SU with a rich, detailed, data source about the issues students are facing each term.

This is a key way for the University to know how to better support lecturers that are not currently able to implement policy and practice that students expect. The sector has implemented this and some are now even moving to mid-module evaluation surveys to ensure the feedback loop is closed before students leave.

What are we asking?

We’re asking the University to make sure all modules will conduct a module evaluation survey that is systematically collected and acted upon. Results to be discussed with students and the Students’ Union.

RESPONSE: DECEMBER 2016

The University plans to introduce a single online centrally-reporting module evaluation system in the next academic session. In anticipation, standardised survey questions will be consulted on during the remainder of this academic year.

RESPONSE: JUNE 2017

Standardised survey questions have been developed by Working Groups and agreed in Committee. These will be used in the next session in parallel with the procurement of an online system.

8) TEXT ALERTS FOR CANCELLED LECTURES

Why is this important?

Lectures and seminars should not be cancelled in the first place. However, sometimes it is obviously unavoidable. Where this is the case text alerts must be sent out so we know what is happening. This is most important for students who must travel a long distance or pay for childcare.

Why do we believe this?

In the National Student Survey Brighton currently sits 10 percent behind the sector on the question “The course is well organised and running smoothly”.

The Students’ Union understands that the technology for the texting already exists and that a policy is in the works, it would be good to highlight this to students and staff. The SU also believes that it is important for the school to measure the timeliness and consistency of rescheduled sessions and this should form part of the guidance document or framework for measuring and evaluating that accompanies the policy.

What are we asking?

So we’re asking the University to make sure text alerts will be utilised for cancelled lectures/seminars, information about rearranged sessions will be provided within 24 hours.

RESPONSE: DECEMBER 2016

A texting policy and tool has been established that Schools can now use to alert students of changed arrangements.

RESPONSE: JUNE 2017

Useful feedback has been provided to refine the policy. All Schools have used the texting facility with eight using on a routine basis.

9) ACCURATE TIMETABLES & WEDNESDAY AFTERNOONS FREE

Why is this important?

We need to be able to plan our time and know where we need to be. For those of us who have to schedule work or caring responsibilities this is even more important. Accurate timetables issued two weeks before the start of each term are essential. It’s also essential that we keep Wednesday afternoons free from scheduled teaching so we can enjoy the extracurricular sports and development opportunities available to us.

Why do we believe this?

In the National Student Survey “The course is well organised and running smoothly” Brighton currently sits 10 percent behind the sector on this question. Whilst there is a specific question about timetabling the Students’ Union feels as though problems with the timetable cause other issues on the course and an effective timetable can make the course seem as though it’s well organised and running smoothly.

We also have a lot of anecdotal evidence from students that they are unable to take part in extracurricular activities due to the scheduling of classes on Wednesday afternoons.

What are we asking?

So we’re asking the University to make sure sensible, accurate and personalised digital timetables will be available at least two weeks before the start of term. Wednesday afternoons will also be kept free for extracurricular activities including, volunteering, sport, societies, and academic representation.

RESPONSE: DECEMBER 2016

The University sees timetabling as a major investment project of critical significance which it will develop in consultation with students.  We are working towards providing students with personal timetables in close association with all Schools.  Where programmes permit Wednesday afternoons will remain free for non-curricular activities.

RESPONSE: JUNE 2017

Student teaching timetables have been rolled out to Moulsecoomb and City campuses following implementation at Falmer and Eastbourne, allowing all students access to live online course timetables via the timetabling icon in Studentcentral. A successful pilot for personal timetables took place during semester 2 and work is ongoing to deliver personal timetables across the whole University over the next year.

10) FAIR EXAM BOARDS

Why is this important?

It is important that students in different schools or on different campuses are treated the same way in similar circumstances. This is essential when it comes to the way our work is assessed or the way we are able to progress. It simply cannot be the case that summer exam boards don’t make their final decisions in a time that lets all students know whether they are coming back next year!

Why do we believe this?

The Students’ Union included this recommendation because the Union Support team advised that they had seen a large number of students still waiting for appeal responses even when the new term had started. This causes problems with accommodation, student finance and their ability to study the next year of their course.

What are we asking?

So we’re asking the University to make sure exam board results will be administered in a uniform way across the University to ensure parity of practice.

RESPONSE: DECEMBER 2016

The University reviewed examination board practices in 2015/16 and will now monitor their operation for consistency of application.

RESPONSE: JUNE 2017

Training was provided for Exam Board Chairs and Exam Officers in April 2017 with 200 attendees. Rules for decision-making at classification borderlines have been introduced for undergraduate programmes.

We would love to know how these issues affect you. After reading through our academic priorities, fill in our form below and let us know how they affect you.