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safeguarding standards and improving the quality of UK higher education

Student engagement projects

​​​​​​Sponsored research projects

We have​​ funded two grants for research into student engagement across the higher education sector in 2012-13. 

Student perceptions of quality and standards

The first project is with King's College London and is focusing on student perceptions of quality and standards. This project is being led by Camille Kandiko. The project aims to look at a minimum of 16 institutional sites covering a range of interests. Using focus groups, structured interviews and statistical information, these will offer a concise way of "taking the pulse" of the institution, triangulating findings through a range of sources of data. This project provides illustrative examples of the issues affecting students in the first year of a funding model in England that is significantly different both to that in existence in previous years and to that operated in the other countries of the UK.

The report is available on King's College London's webs​ite (opens in new window).

Student engagement in quality assurance and enhancement:  institutional and student body practices

The research by the University of Bath, sheds new light on student engagement in UK higher education. It provides an up to date, thorough analysis of student engagement across the higher education sector, from large universities to smaller colleges and alternative providers. The research found that inevitably there are wide variations in the approaches institutions take to student engagement, and that many are highly innovative and effective. However, the research also highlights some common themes and particular issues, including:

  • the gap in student engagement at the level of school or faculty, compared to more developed representation at both programme and institutional level
  • a relatively common view among institutions of students as important stakeholders, on a path to becoming partners, rather than as consumers
  • the impact on students’ unions’ influence of their independence, credible representation of students and an informed student voice.

The outcomes of the project have been reported in Research F​indings report and a Good Practice Guide for students’ unions (opens in new window). ​


Collaborative projects with NUS and the Student Engagement Partnership (TSEP)

We funded the NUS and TSEP to work on two areas that are specifically about enhancing student engagement activities. 

Staff development programme

The aim of this project is t​o ensure student union staff members in institutions that are subject to QAA review are able to effectively support students and student reps in engaging with quality assurance and enhancement processes by developing a train-the-trainer staff development programme. For more information on this project contact Ellie Russell at NUS via ellie.russell@nus.org.uk.

Annual quality reports

The aim of this project is to enhance institutional level quality and student engagement in the quality agenda through actively promoting and encouraging students’ unions to have an annual student submission process. For more information on this project see the NUS website or contact Ellie Russell at NUS via ellie.russell@nus.org.uk.


Student experience research

We launched a major student engagement project in 2010-12, carried out in partnership with the NUS, through an investment of £218,000.

The project covered three distinct but complementary strands over a one-year period:

Strand 1: Research into the student experience​

NUS carried out research on the student experience in 2008-11, funded by HSBC. The aim of Strand 1 was to expand on the knowledge gained through the HSBC research and other surveys such as the National Student Survey. The research explored the student learning experience, including:

  • teaching of courses

  • feedback and assessment

  • student engagement

  • student representation

  • public information and informing student choice

  • complaints and appeals

  • academic support

  • other aspects that help form a high quality experience.

This research was conducted by the Research Group in the commercial arm of NUS (NUS Service Ltd). Data was gathered through an online survey, supplemented by an online discussion group and focus groups held in eight locations nationally.

The first mini report, Student Experience Research 2012. Part 1: Teaching and Learning, was published on 8 March 2012.

The second mini report, Student Experience Research 2012. Part 2: Independent Learning and Contact Hours, was published on 21 March 2012.

The third mini report, Student Experience Research 2012. Part 3: Subject Differences, was published on 22 March 2012.

The fourth mini report, Student Experience Research 2012. Part 4: First Year Student Experience, was published on 20 April 2012.

Strand 2: Student-centred quality

Strand 2 aimed to develop student engagement with quality assurance processes and reviews of higher education institutions. This was achieved through the development of:

  • training materials about quality assurance and enhancement for course representatives, suitable for distribution online and through students' unions
  • briefings for students' unions about how to use reviews to deliver change within their institution
  • bespoke support for students' unions who are producing a student written submission (SWS) for a review, and particularly for the new role of lead student representative
  • materials to support students' unions through the new Institutional Review mid-year cycle process
  • the annual Quality Matters conference and the addition of a mid-year follow-up event
  • national networking and training events for course representatives and students' union staff on specific quality processes.

Strand 3: Developing quality engagement

The aim of Strand 3 was to build the capacity of students' unions who do not have a tradition of being involved in quality assurance at their institution to be able to tackle quality issues and become involved in quality assurance processes.

The project worked with 16 self-nominated students' unions who were looking for help and support to strengthen their quality agenda.

These 16 students' unions received up to five days of bespoke consultancy support, to help them get more students within their higher education institution involved in quality assurance processes. A key part of this consultation was the development of local student representation strategies which build a partnership approach between the students' union and the institution.

Case studies were collected from these 16 students' unions, in addition to case studies from at least two new and non-traditional institutions, to help contribute to knowledge in the higher education sector about how students are involved in quality assurance and enhancement processes.

QAA and NUS will also produce national guidance and support materials about developing strong student involvement. ​