Students: Do you have a voice within your university?

The student focus groups consisted of small group meetings led either by a student member of the European Students Union or by a staff member (where a student was not available). Participants were invited to respond to a number of questions relating to their learning experience, their understanding of the concept of quality in higher education and their influence (voice) in the quality process. The set of questions used with students was designed to encourage positive comments rather than complaints and a full list of questions is available on the SPEAQ website, some examples of which are given below:

  • What is the most rewarding learning experience you have had on your programme/course and why?
  • What makes your experience as a student a valuable one?
  • Do you have a voice within your university? Are you listened to? If so, how is your opinion heard/acted upon? Where is your voice heard? By whom?
  • What can you contribute to enhancing the learning experience?
  • Who are the quality managers in your institution?

Each partner submitted a summary of the main outcomes of their student focus group to the European Students Union which has produced a draft summary report of the key findings from each of the focus groups.

In all focus groups, communication is identified as an important element of a good institution. However, according to the participants in the discussions, communication is the most common problem. Students require better communication teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-student, student-to-student, student-to-teacher, student-to-administration through regular meetings, round table discussions etc. In addition to communication, students are looking for an opportunity to apply their learning.

In terms of their understanding of the quality processes within their institutions it was found that in general students do not know who the quality managers in their institutions are and there is considerable variation in the effectiveness of class representatives and students.

Finally, when asked about quality enhancement students appear to have ideas about how the learning process could be enhanced, but are not so creative when it comes to their personal involvement. 

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The SPEAQ workshop: what does quality mean to you?

The workshop has been developed by two of the partners and run in a number of different trial versions which have fed into a draft version which will be run at the European Quality Assurance Forum conference in Estonia in November 2012. Following this a final version will be translated and uploaded to the SPEAQ website.

These workshops have been very interactive and have proven to be a useful way of encouraging discussion among staff and/or students. Participants are encouraged to explore quality from a number of perspectives and in many cases discussions have continued beyond the time allotted for the activity. It has clearly stimulated thinking about quality and feedback has shown that participants appreciated being given the opportunity to explore quality in this way (from their own perspective) and responses from students have been particularly enthusiastic. Some students were surprised to be asked about what they contribute to quality as they more usually think of themselves as consumers (receivers of quality) rather than having a role to play within it. Other participants gave suggestions for the projects to be carried out in the second year. Some examples are: supporting students in their first year of study and improving end of module/course feedback questionnaires. The workshop uses a dialogue sheet to stimulate discussion.

The workshop uses a dialogue sheet to stimulate discussion. This tool provides a focus for discussion with participants being asked to consider what questions they might ask to evaluate the quality of a number of everyday items and services. They are then asked to reconsider their questions in the context of higher education and decide on a set of questions which are useful for the purpose of evaluating quality in education. They are then encouraged to think about which questions might relate to their own experiences as student, teacher or administrator and discuss how they might answer them from their own perspective. This helps to relativise quality and to show that all participants have a role to play in quality assurance (and enhancement) and how similar or different these roles might be. As this workshop was quite experimental and was delivered in contexts (countries) with different working practices the way in which the dialogue sheet was used was adapted by each partner. The final workshop will try to take account of these differences and allow for adaptations.

Welcome to the SPEAQ project!

SPEAQ stands for ‘Sharing Practice in Enhancing and Assuring Quality.’ We are a team of partners from various universities across Europe who have been funded by the European Commission to address issues related to quality assurance. Our project team is:

Alison Dickens (director), Laurence Georgin (manager), John Canning (adviser) and Sue Nash (administrator) at LLAS Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies

and partners: Anca Greere (Babes-Bolyai University), Ole Helmersen (Copenhagen Business School), Mariluz Suárez Castiñeira (Deusto University), Christine Lechner (Innsbruck University), Fiona Crozier (QAA England), Klára Szabó (Szeged University), Natalia Tarachiu and Allan Päll (the European Students’ Union),Gillian Moreira (University of Aveiro), Anne Räsänen (University of Jyväskylä) and Kate Riley (University of Trento).

Under the Lifelong Learning Programme, we have been funded to:

connect three key quality circles: teacher, student and quality manager in order to share and enhance quality assurance practice in higher education. This project sets out to address a real concern that quality assurance can become ritualised rather than embedded in learning and teaching practice. The outcomes from this project will seed new ideas on how to approach quality assurance within the institution providing evidence of how bringing together stakeholders in the quality process can lead to a wider and more meaningful interpretation of quality assurance. It will collect data on different stakeholder perspectives on quality assurance and undertake small projects at institutional level which will explore ways in which a more shared vision of quality assurance can be fostered at institutional and disciplinary level. SPEAQ will be building on the work of the LanQua (Language Network for Quality Assurance) which explored issues of quality in the context of the discipline of languages. It developed a toolkit (The LanQua Toolkit) to support frontline (academic/academic support) staff in conceptualising and describing quality from their practice perspective.

So over the next 19 months, we are going to set up interactive workshops to facilitate discussion between teachers, quality managers and students, collect data on stakeholder views of quality assurance and enhancement, disseminate the project outcomes and more.

To find out more, keep reading our posts!