NPC/01/12/B: HEFCE - Information on Quality and Standards of Learning and Teaching

HEFCE

Information on quality and standards of learning and teaching

Consultation paper 01/66

Response by the National Postgraduate Committee

On behalf of the National Postgraduate Committee I am pleased to respond to HEFCE consultation 01/66: Information on quality and standards of teaching and learning. I hope you find our comments helpful.

James Groves
General Secretary
National Postgraduate Committee

21/12/01

Preamble

The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) is the representative body for postgraduate students in the UK. We organise meetings and conferences, publish best practice guidelines and seek to influence public policy on all aspects of postgraduate education. Our membership consists of affiliated students unions from across the UK; we have one full-time officer, the General Secretary, and fourteen voluntary officers. We work closely with the National Union of Students and the lecturers unions.

The NPC has always shown a keen interest in matters of quality assurance; we were strong supporters of the HEQC and remain strong supporters of the QAA.

Responses to questions

Introduction

Question 1: Do you agree with the purposes and principles of information collection and publication set out in paragraphs 18 - 20? Are there others that should be added?

We agree with the proposed purposes and principles. We suggest one addition under paragraph 20: data should be representative, in the sense that it takes into account the opinions and evidence of students, staff and examiners as well as the HEI management.

Question 2: Do you agree that the classification system for the collection and publication of information at the intermediate level between the whole institution and the individual programme should be the 19 JACS subject areas?

Yes. We believe the classification system should also provide a means of disaggregating between undergraduate and postgraduate courses; in our experience, high quality undergraduate provision within a specified subject area does not necessarily imply high quality postgraduate provision in that subject area, and vice versa.

Part A: internal information which should be available within HEIs

Question 3: Do you agree with the portfolio concept a set of defined categories of information within which each HEI collects information to suit its own needs and circumstances?

We broadly agree.

Question 4: Do you agree that there should be four main categories for collecting information about quality and standards, as set out in paragraph 26?

Yes.

Question 5: Are the documents listed in paragraph 29 the right ones to describe the institutional context for quality and standards?

We would suggest adding:

  • policies and processes to ensure effective student representation within the HEIs structures;
  • student complaints and grievance procedures;
  • arrangements for the pastoral support of students;

to the list.

Question 6: Are the data in paragraphs 30 and 32 the right ones to have available internally, and discuss as part of institutional audit, in relation to student admission, progression, completion and employment?

We agree that HESA provides the appropriate data in relation to these areas.

Question 7: Are the headings in paragraph 37 the right ones to use for information on assurance of academic quality and standards?

We agree, but wish to raise a small concern regarding student satisfaction surveys. Many postgraduate students, especially those on courses with a small intake or whose work brings them into close personal contact with members of academic staff, may be reluctant to express dissatisfaction if they feel their comments might not be received in confidence.

Partly for this reason, it is critical that all courses in HEIs have adequate systems of student representation. This enables students to approach their course representative with their concerns in circumstances where they do not wish to express dissatisfaction directly to the institution.

Question 8: Are the items listed in paragraph 39 the right ones for HEIs to consider in internal reviews of quality and enhancement of learning opportunities?

Yes.

Part B: subset of information for publication

Question 9: Are the data in paragraph 42 the appropriate quantitative indicators to include in the published data set?

We are very concerned that only data relating to first degree programmes are being considered. This marginalizes postgraduate students by failing to provide accurate information on their profile within the HEI. Data on postgraduates is, of course, more difficult to gather this should not be an excuse for not providing any!

Question 10: Do you agree with the Task Group recommendation that option b in paragraph 49 should be adopted namely that summaries of external examiners reports should be published?

We believe that, if QAA inspection at subject level is to cease, the views of external examiners must be made publicly available in some form. External examiners reports should be acknowledged as the most important source of information available.

We agree with the Task Group recommendation that summaries of external examiners reports should be published. In our opinion this will necessitate improved support and remuneration for external examiners, and we encourage HEFCE to make funds available accordingly.

Question 11: Do you agree with the Task Group recommendation that option d in paragraph 51 is the best way forward that it should be an option for HEIs to publish commentaries on external examiners reports if they wish?

We broadly agree. We feel, however, that HEIs should be expected to respond to any examiners reports that raise serious concerns.

Question 12: Do you agree with the Task Group recommendation that the combination of options in paragraph 57 is the best way forward that is, to use the FDS to collect the views of recent graduates, with HEIs continuing to conduct their own surveys but on a more consistent basis?

Yes. We endorse the proposed list of suggested core elements (i) to (v) in paragraph 54b.

Question 13: Do you agree with the Task Group recommendation that option a in paragraph 64 publication of learning and teaching strategy statements at the whole institution level is the preferred approach?

We disagree; in our view the statements should be at subject area level, disaggregated by LTSN subject groupings. Learning and teaching strategies (rightly) vary so much between different disciplines that only statements at subject level would be of use to students or employers.

Question 14: Do you agree with the Task Group recommendation that statements of learning and teaching strategies should be published to dovetail with the cycle for institutional audit?

Yes.

Question 15: Do you agree with the Task Group recommendation that option a in paragraph 68 should be pursued, namely that the results of annual monitoring and periodic major programme reviews should be summarised at programme level in association with programme specifications?

Yes. Only option (a) distinguishes between undergraduate and postgraduate provision; this is of critical importance to potential postgraduate students.

Question 16: Do you agree with the Task Groups recommendation that both options a and b in paragraph 70 should be pursued: that is, that material on employer views should be included in HEI learning and teaching strategy statements and programme specifications; and that further consideration should be given to whether a useful national survey of employer views could be designed to supplement other forms of information (option c)?

Yes. We would encourage the establishment of a national survey, along the lines suggested in option (c), which we feel would be of use to students, employers and HEIs.