Current Enhancement Theme
‘Resilient Learning Communities’ is the 2020-23 sector-wide Enhancement Theme. This Theme will focus on meeting the changing needs and values of an increasingly diverse student community and a rapidly changing external environment.
More information can be found on the Enhancement Themes website.
sparqs will be working with QAA Scotland for the duration of the new Theme to support students’ associations and encourage sector-wide student involvement. We are confident that by making their involvement as relevant as possible to their objectives we will increase student engagement in the Enhancement Themes. We hope to support projects led by students and students’ associations, and perhaps even projects involving collaboration between students at different institutions.
The Enhancement Themes are a key component of the Scottish Quality Enhancement Framework. The Themes aim to enhance the student learning experience in universities by focusing on particular areas for development in turn and producing helpful resources for students and staff. Throughout each Theme, staff and students across Scotland’s universities are encouraged to work together to explore new and innovative ideas to enhance teaching and learning.
As part of the current Enhancement Theme, sparqs and QAA Scotland are working collaboratively to facilitate the delivery of the Student-led Project (SLP). The SLP engages student officers from across the sector to input and shape a piece of work related to the current Theme. Until 2023, the SLP will undertake a suite of work under the heading ‘Higher Education: More than a Degree’.
In 2020-21 the project focused on the theme of ‘Digital Communities’, exploring innovative practice from higher education institutions and students’ associations who have recreated student communities in an online environment, and what enablers and barriers they have encountered. The culmination of the first year of this project was a half-day sharing practice event on Tuesday 25th May from 10am–2pm. The event allowed attendees the opportunity to hear practice from students and sector colleagues across Scotland on three key themes: Student Rep Communities; Extracurricular Communities; and Academic Communities. See the event page on Eventbrite for further information.
In 2021-22, the topic the SLP Steering Group selected was ‘Promoting Equity of the Student Learning Experience’. The selection of this topic was motivated in part by the students’ observations of the significant changes to learning and teaching brought about by the pandemic. In some cases, the students observed that the move to digital had made elements of the student experience more equitable, and these are changes which institutions may wish to keep as we move out of the pandemic. In other cases, some changes made the learning experience less equitable for certain groups and demographics of students.
In light of this context, institutions in Scotland have been reflecting on what they have learned from the pandemic, in order to continue to develop approaches to learning and teaching that maximise the benefits of a more blended environment and support the diverse needs of their student populations. Last year’s SLP built on this momentum, encouraging institutions and students’ associations to work collaboratively to build a student experience that supports all students, however and wherever they learn.
The students chose to develop 5 substantive outputs over the course of the project:
- A piece of desk-based research to collate a set of key existing theory, practice and resources related to equity in learning and teaching.
- A ‘top tips’ document on how to develop equitable learning opportunities.
- A workshop that explores how students’ associations and institutions can develop course rep systems that effectively represent diverse groups of students.
- A suite of case studies related to equitable learning and teaching practices.
- An introductory guide for student reps on the topic of equity in learning and teaching.
All of the outputs have now been published on the QAA Scotland Enhancement Themes website.
Contribute to the 2022-23 SLP!
In 2022-23, the cohort of students have decided to focus on 'Exploring Community Partnerships for the Future of Further and Higher Education'. Part of this work is dedicated to better representing the relationship students have with the community they are learning and living in. They are looking for photo submissions from students currently attending a Scottish university or college, showing examples of how students interact with and learn in their community. See the webpage detailing the call for photos for all the details.
Theme Leaders' Group
The work of the Theme is co-ordinated by QAA Scotland's Theme Leaders’ Group, which brings together equal numbers of staff and student representatives who work on the Theme at their own institutions (one staff member and one student member per institution). The Theme Leaders’ Group makes recommendations and decisions on the direction and work of the Theme and monitors Theme activity. The Chair of the Theme Leaders’ Group is Professor Clare Peddie, Vice Principal Education at the University of St Andrews. The Deputy Theme Leader is Professor Ruth Taylor, Vice Principal Education at the University of Aberdeen. The Student Theme Lead is Alex Hedlund, Vice President (Education) at Heriot-Watt University Students’ Union.
The Enhancement Themes website contains a huge range of resources, including presentations, papers and other materials that have been produced under each theme..
Each year, QAA Scotland and the Scottish Higher Education Enhancement Committee (SHEEC), which manages the Enhancement Themes, identify a project based on the outcomes of Enhancement-led institutional Review (ELIR) that allows universities to work together nationally on a shared priority.
These "Focus On" projects have student engagement at their heart. sparqs works closely with QAA Scotland and students' associations in shaping the events and resources that are a feature of each project. We are also able to learn from the projects to inform our own work.
sparqs has presented and facilitated throughout the Focus On series, including delivering a keynote address on its guidance on institution-led review at the January 2017 Focus On event on ILR. We also contributed to the March 2018 Focus On event on feedback from assessment by co-facilitating a workshop with the Vice President of SRUC Students' Association..
Evidence for Enhancement: Improving the Student Experience (2017-20)
From 2017-2020 the Enhancement Theme was around Evidence for Enhancement: Improving the Student Experience.
The Theme considered..... What information is useful to help us identify and understand what we do well and what could be improved? This information, which includes qualitative and quantitative evidence, can be used to identify the issues that would benefit from intervention, help prioritise interventions for improving the student experience, and evaluate the effectiveness of those interventions including reporting on the ways in which the student experience has been improved.
sparqs worked with QAA Scotland to support students’ associations and encourage sector-wide student involvement. We supported projects led by students and students’ associations, as well as projects involving collaboration between students at different institutions.
During 2017-18, as part of the work for the Theme, sparqs worked with QAA Scotland and students from a range of Scottish universities on a project titled: Responding to the Student Voice: Communicating the Impact. The project aimed to explore approaches to informing students about how their feedback has been used for enhancement activities and to improve the learning experience. The resource pack from the project includes Principals of Practice cards, which aim to provoke discussion and reflection, and to be useful in planning and review exercises.
For 2018-19, the Student-led Project focus was Students Using Evidence. The aim of this project was to explore the role of data and evidence in the work of student representatives, including sabbatical officers, lead reps, course reps, and students' association staff. Work involved a ‘students using evidence’ sharing practice event, where staff and students representing all Scottish HEIs gathered in Edinburgh to discuss how students are (and could be) using evidence to improve the student experience. The presentations from the event can be found here.
The outputs from the project include a students' Guide to Using Evidence, published in September 2019, produced by Dr Liz Austen and Stella Jones-Devitt of Sheffield Hallam University, with input from a small steering group of student officers, staff, QAA Scotland and sparqs. The guide provides an introduction to using evidence for students and students’ association staff members, helping them to make better use of data and evidence in their work. The second output is a Data and Evidence Planner - developed in conjunction with students and students’ association staff members worked with QAA Scotland and sparqs to accompany the Higher Education Data Landscape Resource produced by the HE Planners as part of Enhancement Theme activity.
This Theme, which ran from 2014 to 2017, was around Student Transitions, which took a wide-ranging view of the student journey through higher education.
As part of this, universities were involved in work around:
- The transition from school or college to university and the first year experience.
- Considering the experience away from the student’s normal place of study through an international exchange or work placements and the transition before and after these experiences.
- The transition into further study and the postgraduate student experience (both taught and research opportunities).
- And finally the end of study where students prepare to graduate and enter into the workplace.
In the early stages of the Theme, we held an event for institutions to learn more about the Theme, discuss ideas and create plans for collaborative projects. Click here for further information and materials from the event.
Student Transitions Leaflet
We have also worked with QAA Scotland to produce a leaflet to help students learn more about how to use the new Theme to enhance the quality of learning and teaching at their university.
The Enhancement Theme which ran over three years from 2011-2014, was called Developing and Supporting the Curriculum. It looked at three broad questions:
- How is the curriculum, in its broadest sense, shaped and delivered?
- Who is it for - and how is the student body changing?
- What support is required for staff?
sparqs was hugely involved in ensuring student engagement in the theme. There is a great deal of information on the student perspective in a paper written by NUS Scotland entitled Developing and Supporting the Curriculum: Student perspectives on the changes and developments in higher education.