Findings from the recent Student Academic Survey show the need for important new areas of work. But we must grasp the subtleties of how students make decisions.

Understanding what makes for a good student experience

HEPI and the Higher Education Academy have published their annual report on the student experience, based on the Student Academic Experience Survey. The survey, as ever, surfaced some distinctive and thought-provoking findings.

While relatively small compared with the National Student Survey – just 15,000 respondents, compared to 320,000 for the NSS – it provides a useful, complementary perspective, and one which backs up the NSS finding that the majority of students (87%) are satisfied with their studies.

New areas of work

Still, this means a significant minority of students are not satisfied, and the findings of the report shone a light on some important new areas of work in which HEFCE already has an interest.

In particular the survey posed new questions on the information provided to students about how their tuition fees are spent, and how students rate the importance of training for those who teach in higher education. We are exploring the merits of both.

We are encouraging greater transparency about university expenditure. Earlier this year we published case studies of five universities who have worked with their students to provide clearer, more easily accessed information about how they spend their income.

These changes have come about through guidance we published last year. It’s clear that many institutions have acted on the guidance, but we’ll know more – and say more – later in the year.

We will also publish sector and institutional level data on the teaching qualifications held by staff who teach in higher education.

Of course, different institutional missions and contexts will have an effect on the proportion of staff holding a recognised teaching qualification. But this information will support students and institutions by providing a benchmark of engagement with professional development as a teacher in higher education.

Seeing it with student eyes

One of the recommendations from the report is that we should consider publishing teaching qualifications as part of a revamped Key Information Set.

We are in the middle of a review into providing information for students. This entails research with students, their advisers and other users of the KIS to identify what information they value and actually use in their decision-making process.

All of this work will provide a strong and sound base of evidence. And, for us, this user-driven perspective is absolutely vital.

We need to provide information that will be genuinely helpful and meaningful to students. As work we have already published shows, individuals make decisions in different ways, and data is only one part of the picture.

Providing lots of data that is difficult to interpret or is simply overwhelming could hamper rather than enhance decision making.

We also need to help students who are less familiar with higher education, perhaps because no-one they know has been to university. They may not know what factors it would be useful to consider when choosing a higher education experience that will reflect their own needs and interests.

So our research will help us understand if teaching qualifications, alongside other factors about the learning experience, should be in a revised KIS and how this should be presented to help students get the most out of it.