Three perspectives on the Mid Cycle Review

Huw Morgan Jones, Student Affairs Manager, reports on our students’ taking part in the recent review of the International Programmes
Current LLB student Jenny Smith
Current LLB student and student reviewer, Jenny Smith
The University’s Student Affairs Team is working hard to develop creative ways to build a stronger sense of student engagement

The University recently arranged a review of the International Programmes by an independent panel of experts from the higher education sector in the UK. In this article, we share the unique perspectives of students, staff and a member of the review panel on this Mid Cycle Review. 

What was the Mid Cycle Review and how did students get involved?

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) reviews the processes of UK universities for maintaining academic standards and quality. This usually happens every five years. We were last reviewed by the QAA in 2011, and after reaching the halfway point in the review cycle we decided to bring in an external panel to carry out a ‘mid cycle’ review.

Held over two days in May 2014, “the Mid Cycle Review was an opportunity for the University of London International Programmes to take stock of its current position, and look at the progress it has made since the last official review”, explains Quality Manager, Sharon Simpson. Although the Mid Cycle Review is no longer a formal part of the quality review cycle, we wanted to run a comprehensive activity that demonstrates our commitment to maintaining academic standards.

The Mid Cycle Review panel met with groups of staff to ask probing questions about the quality of important elements of the student lifecycle. To check that staff responses were reflective of the actual student experience, the panel also met with a number of undergraduates and postgraduates via Google Hangouts. These students joined the meeting from Malta, Jordan, Hong Kong, Qatar, Kenya, South Korea, and the UK, and included those studying both independently and at a teaching institution.

The panel included a student reviewer. All student reviewers involved in QAA-related reviews have experience of representing student interests when they were students and help to ensure that students’ experience of higher education is at the forefront of the review process.

What type of questions were students asked?

“We were asked about the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), how often we use it, and whether we use it to organise study sessions with other students. There were also questions about our study materials, the student handbook and the student charter”, explains Jenny Smith who started her LLB in Italy before returning to London in 2013. “We were also asked for feedback on the value for money of the courses and on how challenging the material is.”

Myrna CastroThe reviewers were particularly keen to hear about “the practicalities of studying in many different countries and circumstances”, said Myrna Castro (pictured left) from South Korea. “By participating in the Mid Cycle Review, I knew I was making a positive contribution to the University of London International Programmes”.

What were the outcomes of the Mid Cycle Review?

At the end of the Mid Cycle Review, the panel highlighted features of good practice it had found and made a few suggestions as to how we can improve our academic standards.

The annual process we have for checking the effectiveness of your programme, the Annual Programme Planning and Review (APPR), was described as ‘robust and rigorous’. Those of you attending a teaching institution will be pleased to know that we were also commended for our Teaching Institutions Recognition Framework [pdf: 28 pgs, 590KB]. This seeks to protect the interests of International Programmes students attending recognised centres.  

On the other hand the review panel highlighted a couple of areas, such as the Virtual Learning Environment and student feedback, which we can develop further. The University’s committees are currently looking at ideas that would contribute to the student experience in a meaningful way.

How can students help build on the work of the Mid Cycle Review?

The Mid Cycle Review was a really useful activity as it is now helping teams across the University to focus on ways of improving the student experience. For us to do this successfully, we need to have regular dialogue with you.

Gavin Lee, Mid Cycle Review student reviewer, explains further. “The University’s Student Affairs Team is working hard to develop creative ways to build a stronger sense of student engagement – and they need your input. Is it online forums through your virtual learning environment? Occasional ‘regional’ meetings for students in certain countries, nations, cities to meet to discuss their studies? Is it virtually attending meetings through Skype?”

If you have any ideas for how we can improve your student experience, we want to hear from you! Visit the Have an Idea? section of our website to talk to us.  Every submission will receive a response and will be considered by colleagues from the Corporate Performance and Quality (CPQ) directorate.