League tables are not something that are done to us. They are just a reflection of our performance, and I think we would all like to see our performance improve to the point in those tables where we all think we should be.
Staffordshire has performed better in student satisfaction this year, but the areas in which we could improve are: value added; career prospects, and entry tariff.
I’ll be meeting with lots of people of the next few weeks to start looking at what this means for us, and what we can change. The thoughts below are just a starting point – I hope everyone will engage in this important debate, starting with Heads of School and Associate Deans in the monthly meeting this week.
In the Guardian League Table, this is a measure of good degree outcomes, moderated by entry qualifications, rather than a simple measure of distance of travel between entry and exit. Since some of the most highly selective universities, with the highest entry tariffs, score most highly in value added, then as a University, we need to be looking at how many of our students are gaining good degrees. We already know that despite this figure rising in 2011-12, we are still a university that awards relatively few 1sts and 2(i)s.
There are a number of approaches we could use to tackle this, and to have any effect we will need to consider all of them
- Reviewing award regulations
- Reviewing individual module performances
- Reviewing student support systems
- Reviewing learning and teaching strategies, particularly around assessment and feedback
- Making sure all student groups (by gender, age, ethnicity etc) are able to perform equally well.
Firstly we need to ensure that the data we return is as good as possible – although this is the same for all of our data returns that are used in league table compilation.
Secondly, increasing the number of good degrees that we award should have positive benefit- students with a 2(i) or above are more likely to gain graduate employment, or land interviews with the bigger employers.
Thirdly, our Staffordshire Graduate programme will help to make our graduates more employable, but this will only start to pay dividends for the cohort graduating in 2015.
Finally, we could look to creating graduate internships within the university- other institutions have already done this. The benefit to the graduate is clear- graduate level work experience – and the benefit to us would be a pool of motivated employees who could be engaged in short term project work in both academic and service departments of the organisation.
On one level this should be a no-brainer- students with better A levels perform better in degrees. However, we should not lose sight of two things:
- Our commitment to widening participation in a city with relatively low educational achievement
- The numbers of students that we have with BTEC and other qualifications
Raising entry tariff sends a marketing message about the perceived value of an award, and may make it more likely for us to become first choice for applicants. However, in terms of improving attainment, we should also be developing a better understanding of our students’ previous background, which will involve a bit of data mining of our information system, and then ensuring our TLA approaches are suitable.
We will be working this year to gain a better understanding of how BTEC students achieve at university, how EdExcel awards could be designed to prepare students better for higher education, and how we could adjust to teaching these entrants
There’s a lot of work to do here, but we have turned a corner, our league table position is slightly better this year, and we are developing a better understanding of how to improve our position. To reiterate my first point though – this is not about responding to a league table result, or trying to game the system. It’s a recognition that the table is just a reflection of where we are right now. I think we all believe that we can be better than we seem to appear , and so we can start working towards that goal.