When is the academic calendar finalised?

QUESTION:

Dear Ask Executive,
Please could you give a specific date on which the 2015/16 academic calendar will be finalised following your statement that “the academic calendar remains under review and further meetings are planned with Faculties to review the impact of the 2014/15 changes before the 2015/16 calendar is finalised” in your response dated 06/01/2015.

Does this comment indicate that the calendar will not be released until following the end of the next academic term (when the impact of the calendar for 2014/15 can be reviewed)?

How does this fit with the “managing academic workloads and the professional contract” policy which states that workload planning activities “would normally commence in March/April and the overall plan of work should be determined by the line manager in consultation with the individual by the end of the July before the start of the following academic year”?

In addition will students planning to start in 2015/16 be left in the dark about the academic calendar dates until much later in the year? What impact is this likely to have on student satisfaction in relation to information provided to new students prior to starting a course with us? If a student enquires about term dates for their course what should they be told?

ANSWER:

The term dates for 2015/16 have been agreed. They have been communicated to Student Finance England (SFE) and are published on the University’s website.

The timing of Easter in 2016 is such that the two week Easter holiday encompasses the weeks including Good Friday and Easter Monday, while also permitting nine weeks of teaching pre-Easter and three weeks thereafter.

The purpose of the interim review of the academic calendar, commencing later this month, is to evaluate the impact of changes that have already been implemented (introduction of an independent study week in semester one and an earlier semester one examination period) and to assess whether such changes should be retained in the 2015/16 calendar.

Can you advise on student numbers and forecast numbers?

QUESTION:

Can you please advise:

Student numbers for 2014/15 intake (to date) and how many students this is down on the forecast numbers.
Student numbers for 2013/14 intake and how many students this was down on the forecast numbers.

Student retention (numbers) for the 2014/15 intake (to date) and how this compares to forecast retention.
Student retention (numbers) for 2013/14 intake and how this compares to forecast retention.

How many students will be studying at Blackheath Lane in 2016/17 according to forecasts.
How many students will be studying at Stoke in 2016/17 according to forecasts.

Thanks.

ANSWER:

The University has under-recruited against target over the last two years, particularly in relation to full time undergraduate students but also international students as well. However, having had three successive years in which UCAS applications have fallen, it is pleasing to note that that the early signals for 2015 entry indicate that UCAS applications have now stabilised at 2014 levels. Notwithstanding this, considerably energies continue to be applied to marketing the University, encouraging attendance at open days and converting applications into firm, first choice acceptances.

While retention rates for level 5 and 6 students are satisfactory, we are still seeing too many level 4 students either self-withdraw or fail to complete the year in a fashion that allows them to progress to the next level of their studies. The University’s Academic Board has recently approved changes to the assessment regulations, which we hope will remove barriers to progression while maintaining academic quality and standards.

As set out in the ‘Smarter Future’ strategy document, our future is to be a medium-sized, city-based University of at least 8,500 full time undergraduate students, including more
than 1,200 international students. This includes students at our centre of excellence on the Blackheath Lane site at Stafford.

Can we have more details about the Easter holiday consultation please?

QUESTION:

Dear Ask Executive,

Please could you share full and specific details of the ‘limited student consultation’ identified in your Ask Executive question response of 23/10/2014 in relation to the movement of the traditional Easter holiday period?

Also, it was indicated that the moving of the Easter holiday period was intended to improve the student experience and attendance post Easter – please could you provide specific detail as to working groups assessment of the potential impact which moving Easter might have on these factors. The indications I am receiving from students would suggest that the opposite is true as a result of this move.

Could the minutes of these meetings be shared?

Thank you.

ANSWER:

The change in the calendar which impacts on the Easter break in 2015, resulted from a desire to establish (wherever possible) a consistent pattern to teaching in semester 2, where 9 weeks of teaching would take place prior to Easter and 3 weeks after Easter. In particular, this sought to address student and staff concerns that the post-Easter teaching period often comprised a very small number of teaching weeks which had led to poor student attendance and, in some cases, those weeks had been converted into revision rather than teaching sessions.

At the time the changes to the calendar were being prepared, the Students’ Union invited students to comment on different aspects of the proposals. While the total number of students who responded to the survey was relatively small, nevertheless there was positive support for the change to the Easter schedule.

The academic calendar remains under review and further meetings are planned with Faculties to review the impact of the 2014/15 changes before the 2015/16 calendar is finalised.

Should Week 10 be rearranged for Easter?

QUESTION:

The Monday of Week 10 in Semester 2 is Easter Monday.
Should Week 10 classes be cancelled, re-arranged or put back so that teaching finishes on the Monday of Week 13 rather than the Friday of Week 12?

ANSWER:

As teaching on the Monday of week 10 of the 2nd semester cannot takes place as it coincides with Easter Monday, staff are asked to re-arrange any affected teaching sessions and to do so in consultation with their students.

Why are the Easter holiday dates not in Easter?

QUESTION:

Why are the Easter holiday dates for Staffordshire University not covering the actual Easter period? A quick check of a few other nearby universities shows that we are an exception here. The University of Central Lancashire, Derby, Birmingham and Wolverhampton all have at least one week of holiday period covering the actual Easter period when people with families need to take time off.

I have looked in to this further since my initial question taking in the universities of Warwick, Leicester, Loughborough, Coventry, Cambridge, Oxford, Huddersfield, Keele, Manchester, Salford, Chester, Liverpool, Edge Hill and Liverpool John Moores in addition to those detailed in my original question and so far have found no other university to have positioned their Easter Break in such an extraordinary place.

On asking students about this matter, the majority of whom were quite understandably working under the assumption that the university Easter break would be placed where it usually is (i.e Easter) there was considerable concern about the impact this would have on their work (earning money doing work only available in that week) and family lives (taking holidays with their younger siblings on half-term).

ANSWER:

At its meeting on 6 February 2013, the Academic Board approved the creation of a working group to review the academic calendar for the academic session 2014/15, in order to ensure that it fully supported the student experience, student retention and the efficient use of University resources. The working group met on five occasions and comprised representatives from Faculties, Trade Unions, Partnerships, Students’ Union and wider student body, Recruitment and Admissions and the Student Office. At its final meeting in October 2013, the working group reviewed on the final draft academic calendar from three Faculties and one School, as well as six central services. In addition, a limited student consultation was also conducted. The 2014/15 academic calendar was approved by Academic Board in October 2013.

The change in the calendar which impacts on the Easter break in 2015, resulted from a desire to establish (wherever possible) a consistent pattern to teaching in semester 2, where 9 weeks of teaching would take place prior to Easter and 3 weeks after Easter. In particular, this sought to address student and staff concerns that the post-Easter teaching period often comprised a very small number of teaching weeks which had led to poor student attendance and, in some cases, those weeks had been converted into revision rather than teaching sessions. 70% of students who responded to the consultation supported this change.

The 2015/16 academic calendar has been approved in principle by Academic Board and the Easter holiday period is the 2 weeks which contains both good Friday and Easter Monday, while at the same time still maintaining a 3 week teaching block post Easter. All aspects of the 2014/15 calendar will be reviewed in the summer of 2015 before the 2015/16 calendar is finalised.

Why was such a crucial system as SITS introduced so quickly?

QUESTION:

I welcome the introduction of new ICT systems and applications to underpin our administration processes. However, although I am aware that a huge amount of preparatory work has gone into the introduction of SITS, it was deployed before staff really felt comfortable with it.

It has impacted on my work and that of my colleagues at an extremely busy time in the academic year i.e. clearing and enrolment. This has caused a huge amount of stress. However, my real concern is that I believe that it has also affected our ability to serve our new and existing students and I feel that their dissatisfaction may be reflected in the surveys which inform the league tables.

My question is : Why was such a crucial system introduced so quickly?

ANSWER:

Thank you for the question. The new SITS system, once fully implemented and embedded will make a huge difference to the way we work in both faculties and services. As with any major new system development and implementation, there will always be the challenge of a smooth implementation. What makes things more of a challenge for us, is that this system relies of the student journey from application, through the students life at the University. This means that we have to start the implementation to coincide with the start of the application process and then we have to keep apace with each of the next steps in their journey – such as clearing, enrolment, assessment etc. Therefore the timeline is dictated to us, and we have to do our very best to manage this within the University. The areas we have implemented have gone well – applications, confirmation and clearing. It is true that we have experienced more problems with the enrolment aspect, which is for a wide range of reasons, some of which were in our control (ie the complexity of our data) and some of which were down to the students themselves (eg requests for money from student Finance England). What has been amazing, has been the professionalism and dedication of staff both within the faculties, services, triage team and SSP team who have worked tirelessly to work through these issues. At executive we have had regular reports on every ones efforts. Whilst some affected students may have been frustrated with the implementation, all of the responses that I have seen and been involved within, have acknowledged the dedication of staff to address the issues and their professionalism, which goes a long way to allaying fears or concerns.

The timeline for implementation has been shared in a number of different ways since we began the project and is currently detailed on the SITS blog. There are also regular updates within the Monthly newsletter that is distributed via the RSS feed and published on the blog.

How do you see the academic calendar working?

QUESTION:

I have been looking at this in terms of our mod specs and hours and I don’t see how it lines up with the new calendar.

Take a FT UG studying 60 CATS in semester 1 this is 600 hours of learning time.
13 weeks (12 weeks teaching plus 1 reading week) 37.5 x 13 = 487.5 hours (112.5 hours short)

Semester 2 is the a similar calculation (12 weeks teaching plus revision week )
and even if you include the full two weeks of assessment (plus 75 hours and that assumes every student would have an assessment on the very last day) that would still leave us short overall for the whole academic year of 150 hours.

The only way to get to that 150 hours would be either
a. To say that two of the weeks in the Xmas holidays and the two weeks at Easter are not actually holidays at all but full time study – is this what we are saying because I find it very unconvincing? And given the diversity in our student body which includes mature students with families I think that will be a hard message to sell.

b. We expect the students to be working a lot above 37.5 hours i.e. in the evenings every night. Again given the diversity with mature students and families this would be an issue, plus the number of students with part time jobs.

How do you envisage this working?

ANSWER:

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) uses the term ‘notional learning time’ to denote
all time expected to be spent by a student in pursuit of a higher education qualification.
This includes independent study and reading, preparation for contact hours, coursework,
revision and summative assessment. This term is used because the actual time that learners need to achieve designated learning outcomes varies considerably. Notional study time of ten hours per credit is the agreed tariff that higher education providers use in designing their programmes and learning outcomes for higher education qualifications,
with 360 credits making up an honours degree.

Therefore there are 1200 hours (120 x 10 hours) of notional teaching time per level on our undergraduate awards.

Reasonably we would expect a student to have 40 hours notional learning time per week
(this is the assumed average in the HEA/HEPI Student Academic Experience survey 2014).

In the new academic calendar there are 13 weeks (12 reading weeks + 1 reading/revision week) in each semester.

This means that with 40 hours notional learning hours per week, 40 x 13 x 2 = 1040 hours would leave students short of 160 notional learning hours per year.

This could be accounted for by notional learning time during assessment periods at weekends and holidays (which isn’t a unusual expectation in the sector). This is evidence in the HEA Survey (referenced above).

In this way 1200 hours can be accounted for.

What was the £25 graduation ticket price spent on?

QUESTION:
I had a wonderful morning with my son and other family members at the FCES graduation event (yesterday). The weather was wonderful and the venue idyllic. However, my expectations were not met when it came to the refreshments –in fact, I was quite disappointed. I would like to ask what I received for my £25 ticket fee for the Graduation event. It certainly wasn’t food. I wonder if Exec can identify what the fee was actually spent on?

 

ANSWER:
Following the ceremonies held at the Trentham Estate in 2012 the University reviewed the location and pricing for its graduation ceremonies with particular concern as to how we manage large numbers of guests in inclement weather. Equally the cost of the graduation ceremonies and the fairness of the previous ticket pricing was raised.
A number of alternative venues were considered for future ceremonies, however, following a feasibility study and consultation with the Students’ Union it was agreed that the previous venue at the Trentham Estate offered by far the better overall experience for our graduating students and their families.
In 2012 all students were charged a flat fee of £35 to attend graduation which covered the entry of the graduate to the ceremonies and a guaranteed 2 additional guests. In 2012 30% of students requested 2 or less tickets and indeed 32 students brought no guests at all to the ceremonies. This meant that the remaining 70% of students and their guests were receiving far more for their £35 than the other students. It was, therefore, agreed that given the increasing costs to students for obtaining their degree that a fairer system would allow free entrance to the ceremonies for all graduates and to charge a fee per guest.
A comparison exercise was undertaken with other Universities and a fee of £25 agreed. This fee covers the entrance into the gardens (normally costing £8), access to the ceremony hall, a celebratory brochure and the post ceremony celebration catering for students and their guests.
We listened to feedback to our pricing structure once the ticket prices had been announced and agreed to offer a £10 refund for all tickets that had been purchased for a child after between 6 and 14. All under-fives entered free of charge. The Students’ Union were fully involved in the review from the start of the process.
The feedback received from virtually all who attended the week was of a higher positive and enjoyable experience. A sample of the comments can be found at http://storify.com/StaffsUni/staffordshire-university-awards-2013 .

It was important to us to ensure that our Students were the decision makers in the style, content and range of products that were offered as part of the post ceremony refreshments. We took the opportunity throughout the planning process to run a number of tasting panels of proposed products. The final range was decided upon by Students and were the products that they had given the highest marks to regards to in taste and visual appeal. We were also mindful that there would be a large number of our guests that would have specific dietary requirements and so for the first time we were able to offer the ability to book special dietary requests for not only the students but also their guests. Comments and feedback from the Students show that this was very well received.

How effective is the CRM system?

QUESTION:
I am interested in knowing how Exec views the success of the CRM system since its launch.

Are there plans to implement further guidance to staff on the importance of actively using the system? From my experience some colleagues who are managing external relationships do not update or use the CRM system at all, so I wondered how successfully as a university exec thinks we are using our CRM system to ensure that we understand and meet the on-going needs of our customers?

 
ANSWER:

The CRM system which launched in 2011 has had varied uptake across the university.  There is a network of user groups established who are responsible for cascading CRM throughout the university.  Certain teams have clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of having a CRM system, notably, Recruitment, Admissions, Marketing and ECD , who have all realised its benefits.

As we introduce the Student Systems project, we will need to review how CRM is being used and the scope of its operations. This will be the case with other software systems we operate within the University. Consequently there may be some changes in the future to both the role and remit of the CRM system. These decisions will be made following detailed analysis and involvement of key people who use those systems.

It is clear that there needs to be a process in which we capture and maximise all our external contacts in a robust way.

In the meantime, if staff require re-training please contact Eleanor Newman who will advise who in your area will be able to assist.

Are staff expected to deal with abuse?

QUESTION:
Here at Staffordshire University, confrontation with students is part of the job, however, are staff members expected to deal with abuse, swearing and personal derogatory remarks?

The University are often telling us that “students are the customers”, but should we have to be subjected to this in our workplace?

In the past, complaints made against students have often been “brushed under the carpet” and no further action is ever taken. How do we ensure that our complaint and concerns are taken seriously? I often find myself telling students that their behaviour is a breach of “student regs” and will not be tolerated, but this seems like an idle threat when our complaints are not taken further.
ANSWER:
The University’s Student Behaviour Policy sets out our expectations of student conduct. In cases where a student’s behaviour is considered inappropriate and it cannot be addressed informally by the member of staff then the matter should be referred to the appropriate Dean of Faculty who will consider whether the University’s disciplinary procedures should be invoked.

The University takes such issues seriously and where staff have continued concerns about the behaviour of students then they should discuss the issue with Noel Morrison, the Academic Registrar and Director of Student Experience.