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UK Higher education standards: improving course evaluation

In 2011, Electric Paper gathered the opinions of senior academics and student representatives in UK universities to examine the latest issues and trends in course evaluation, and the improvements that need to be made to gain more effective student feedback on courses and lecturers.

According to the report, many universities find it hard to get a meaningful response from students to evaluate teaching quality, and this is partly due to survey fatigue. Apart from having to improve the response rate, universities should engage students more effectively in the feedback process. Alex Bols, head of education and quality at the National Union of Students, suggested: “It’s important for universities to close the loop and tell students what has happened – or hasn’t happened – as a result of the feedback provided and why. This should not be an autopsy at the end of a course, but a process embedded through the learning experience so that it is of benefit to the student giving the feedback and their experience.” Effective course evaluation is essential for universities to provide a clear evidence base to demonstrate their ‘value’ to students. “I think students will want to know that institutions take their concerns seriously, and that education is seen as a collaborative partnership between the university and the students – not just a business transaction”, said Alex Nutt, academic affairs officer at the University of Leicester Students’ Union.

In some cases, feedback may come back when it is too late for the staff to do anything about it. The report suggests that exploiting innovative new technologies can help improve turnaround time. Professor Huw Morris, pro vice-chancellor (academic) at the University of Salford, said “Going forward I anticipate that the higher education sector will need to utilise online devices to capture student feedback, but at the same time ensure that this is not done in an intrusive manner.”

Universities may also need to administer surveys centrally in order to achieve consistent use and analysis of data. For example, a standard set of survey questions can be developed centrally and individual departments can have the flexibility to develop additional questions.

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