Public Information is a key principle at the heart of the sector. It has three key purposes, which are:
- Accountability. Everyone has a right to know how universities and colleges as public bodies are spending their money and providing education, and Public Information is one way in which the public can be confident that the education system is working well.
- Information for prospective students. When prospective students are deciding upon their future education options, they need information upon which to base that decision. Public Information can help them make the right choice for them.
- Quality. Public Information is also an important tool which student representatives can use to run evidence-based campaigns on learning and teaching issues. Universities and colleges can also use Public Information to inform quality enhancement activity.
For sparqs, Public Information is a particularly important area because a lot of the information gathered and used is generated from students, and so it’s one way in which students can have influence over their education. We help students and student officers to shape what types of Public Information are generated, and also to use the results to push for enhancement and change.
College Satisfaction and Engagement Survey
In 2012/13, when the Scottish Funding Council and the college sector were working together to decide what would be included in Outcome Agreements, one of the things sparqs and NUS Scotland suggested for inclusion was a student measure of quality. Whilst this suggestion didn’t make it into the final model of Outcome Agreement, it was agreed that the SFC would work with the sector in the future to develop a national set of questions to measure college student satisfaction and engagement.
A working group was put together including representation from colleges, the Scottish Government, the SFC, and relevant sector agencies including NUS Scotland and sparqs. This working group looked at existing surveys which colleges already carry out, and consulted on a series of common questions which could be included in those surveys. Such a set of questions will provide a degree of comparability across different colleges, meaning that students’ associations would be able to compare their college to others when considering quality enhancement and assurance issues.
The survey opened on Monday 7th March 2016, prior to which sparqs held a half-day event on Wednesday 24th February 2016 for college officers, students' association staff and college staff, to provide valuable information about how best to engage with the survey. All colleges were invited to participate in the survey, which will eventually be going Scotland-wide. From highlighting examples of excellent teaching, to finding where the students' association should focus its efforts improving learner engagement, it is important that student officers and students' association staff know how to make sense of the data, and how to use it to enhance quality within institutions.
The session was split into two parts, how to effectively promote the survey, so the results are robust and representative, and how to use the data that comes from the survey to effect change within institutions. See the event page to view the agenda and further information.
Additionally we offered college students’ associations a tailored development package, providing support and consultancy to suit their requirements.
sparqs aims to make sure that the student voice is heard throughout this process. In particular we are keen that the survey is used primarily as a quality tool, rather than as a driver for admissions.
On Tuesday 31st March 2015 we ran Student Engagement Survey Training, aimed at student officers and students' association staff. It was primarily aimed at those in colleges engaged in the Student Satisfaction & Engagement pre-pilot, but was also open to other students' associations who want to make better use of existing survey data. You can view the agenda for the day. The hashtag for the event, for use on Twitter, was #sparqsSurveyday
Surveys in Universities
One of the most obvious links between Public Information and the learning experience is the data available from national surveys.
The university sector in Scotland participates in the National Student Survey (NSS), which allows students in their final year of study to answer questions about their learning experiences. This provides comparable data both within and between universities, to help show the strengths and room for improvement in universities and across Scotland as a whole.
We have sometimes been able to provide consultancy support to individual institutions where they have identified some areas for development. At the University of Dundee, for instance, NSS scores suggested that feedback to students on their assessments could be a useful area to work on, and we helped the university develop a toolkit for teaching staff and student officers to explore this area.
Other organisations provide Public Information, too. For instance, we are available to help students' associations use the Which? University guide to engage course reps in discussions about quality.
Review of Public Information
In 2013/14 and 2014/15, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has been carrying out reviews of two Public Information tools in universities: the National Student Survey (NSS) and the Key Information Set (KIS). This work has been led by a group called the Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (HEPISG), which includes some representation from Scottish universities, as well as from NUS UK.
During this process sparqs encouraged students’ associations in Scotland to feed in their views, as well as submitting our own response to the consultation. We now wait to see which recommendations from the review will be accepted, and how they will be implemented.
Public Information is also an important part of the Review of the Quality Enhancement Framework which is currently ongoing. You can read sparqs’ response to that review here, where we called for making more use of the outputs of quality processes as public information which might be useful for prospective students.
For further information, please contact Stef Black.