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5th October 2012

Student satisfaction rises but ‘Manchester must try harder,’ says Prof Agnew

– “83 is good but it’s not good enough” – University targeting improvements to feedback and academic support

The man responsible for teaching, learning and students at the University of Manchester has reacted positively to a four per cent leap in student satisfaction in the 2012 National Student Survey (NSS) – but says there is work to be done to improve the student experience.

Professor Clive Agnew, Vice President of Teaching, Learning and Students, was pleased to see overall student satisfaction reach 83% in the National Student Survey, the annual survey completed by final year students at universities across the country.

“Student satisfaction is really important – a university without students is not a university,” Agnew said. “Given that students are at the core of what we do, this is a very important measure… the NSS is a measure of progress towards providing an excellent experience – but it is only one measure.”

Last September, The Mancunion reported that student satisfaction at Manchester was the worst of all Russell Group universities. However, the results of this year’s NSS place the University of Manchester on a par with the University of Edinburgh, and above King’s College, London on that particular measure.

But Agnew is not entirely content with what remains a below average level of student satisfaction at Manchester – 85% of all UK students said that they were satisfied with the quality of their course this time around – especially relative to fellow Russell Group institutions.

“83 is good but it’s not good enough. We need to be at 90,” he explains. “Looking at the data, the two things that come out that are of concern are that assessment and feedback is still the lowest of all the levels of satisfaction, so we have work to do on that. The other area is academic support… the key variable which influences whether a student is content or not”.

However, Agnew claims that there are plenty of positives to take from the news. “I was pleased that all questions – questions 1 to 21 – all of them improved. That’s testimony to the fact that we are moving in the right direction; it wasn’t just one area. It’s not just about question 22 – overall satisfaction – so the fact that all areas moved up is encouraging.”

Indeed, the former Head of Geography, who has two children who have studied at Manchester, believes that these results could provide the University with a springboard to improve satisfaction further in the coming years; he agrees that investment in new facilities, such as the recently-opened Alan Gilbert Learning Commons, will serve to improve the overall student experience.

“Students coming and studying at a university like Manchester benefit tremendously, both in terms of employability and in terms of their prospects,” Agnew says. “But students who are happy have a sense of belonging. They have a sense of identity and they know that they can go and speak to academic support staff… students need to be able to feel that someone knows their name. It’s about creating a culture of saying that students are important, and students and staff need to know each other.”

As such, he identifies three key indicators for the University to work on going forward: “improving the student experience, as measured by the NSS, widening participation, and increasing employability”.

Though Agnew is acutely aware of the significance of the National Student Survey – “because it’s used in many league tables, it’s very important” – he is keen to assert that it’s not the be all and end all. “I want us to be guided by wanting it improve the NSS, but we don’t simply want to only focus on the NSS results. All I’m saying is that it would be wrong to become obsessed with simply trying to change the NSS score, and ignoring the student experience.”

“One of the dangers in focusing on the NSS, and particularly the improvement we’ve just had, is that one thinks it’s just happened in the last twelve months. It hasn’t. This is building upon many years of activity; it takes a long time, in a sense, to foster that culture.”

Meanwhile, Agnew praised the “very strong working relationship” between academic staff and the Students’ Union as one of the primary reasons for the University’s improved standing. “The Students’ Union here got a higher scoring than the average because, two or three years ago, the SU refocused their activities on the needs of students”.

“There was an emphasis on events, previously, and now there is a much greater emphasis on supporting students, student societies, campaigns and so forth… I think the Students’ Union was being run without necessarily recognising all the needs of the students. That’s a criticism they made of themselves, rather than me making it of them, and I think the strategic plan they’ve been developing reflects that.”

Andrew Williams

Andrew Williams

Andrew Williams is The Mancunion’s Features Editor, having previously edited the Politics section of the paper. A PPE graduate, he is studying for an International Relations MA in a last ditch bid to cling on to his student days. For rants about football, obscure pop culture references and wine-induced streams of consciousness, you can follow him on Twitter @andyonpaper

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