The constituent Colleges of University of the Arts London have long and distinguished histories that are reflected in their portfolios of courses and the pride that staff and students take in the high standards of their work.
Quality matters to all. Learning is a two-way process. Staff and students have an important part to play in the maintenance of quality.
The University welcomes the contributions of students and wishes to encourage students to play their full part in ensuring that their courses remain relevant and of high quality. In order to do this, you need to be aware of the formal procedures for monitoring the quality of courses and to understand the framework of regulations and responsibilities within which a creative academic community works.
The four main elements in the system are:
- The continuous monitoring of courses
- The procedures for the approval of new courses and the review of existing courses
- Quality review of schools or equivalent units
- The use of external examiners.
You should also recognise that, individually, you can bring any concerns to the attention of members of staff. Don’t let small matters develop into problems – informal communication complements the formal structures.
Students have an integral role in the formal system for maintaining and improving the quality of the academic work of the University. The following pages describe how students are involved in the quality assurance of their course.
The following paragraphs outline the work of the committees who play the major part in the monitoring and evaluation of courses.
The Academic Board is ultimately responsible for the quality of all the University’s academic work. It is the senior forum for academic policy discussion and decision in the University, and is chaired by the Vice-Chancellor. The composition and terms of reference of the Academic Board in the University, as in all higher education institutions, are determined by the Articles of Government as approved by the Privy Council.
Course and Programme Committees
Every course has a Course Committee or Programme Committee on which teaching staff, learning resources staff, students and those involved in the management of the course are represented. There is a Student Representative from each year/main option of the course.
The Committee meets termly and is responsible for monitoring the operation of the course, considering academic issues (its content, teaching and learning methods, methods of assessment) and matters of course organisation. Each year the Committee monitors the progress of the course by considering External Examiners’ reports, statistical indicators of performance and the Course Leader’s critical analysis of developments. The views of the Committee are incorporated into the continuous monitoring process, which identifies strengths and weaknesses and implements an action plan to improve the course or overall programme.
Boards of Studies
School Boards of Studies are concerned with the academic policy of the School/College, including maintaining and improving the standards of its courses. They are responsible for identifying academic and organisational issues that require action on a cross-School basis and advising Academic Committees about School-related matters. Twenty per cent of members of Boards of Studies are students.
College Academic Committees
Each constituent School of a College has a Student Representative on the College Academic Committee. College Academic Committees are responsible for the implementation of quality assurance procedures throughout the College, for College-wide academic standards and for establishing the academic policy framework within which the School Boards of Studies work.
Academic Quality and Standards Committee
This is a Standing Committee of the University’s Academic Board. It advises the Academic Board on all aspects of academic standards on taught courses, including admission criteria, assessment policies and course regulations. It is responsible for the operation of the system for approving new courses and periodically reviewing existing courses. It oversees the operation of the continuous monitoring system and, on behalf of the Academic Board, it considers major policy matters related to academic standards and development.
This committee also considers how enhancements to the quality of course delivery can be supported. Each year AQSC presents an overview of the operation of the quality assurance processes across the University and the progress that is being made in tackling problems. It also approves the nominations of external examiners.
Course Representatives for each year are elected by students registered on the course. It is then up to you to make use of your Course Rep. Make your views known to your Representative. There are various opportunities for you to express your opinion about your course. If you don’t know who your Course Representative is or if your course doesn’t have one, ask your Course Leader.
Through Continuous Monitoring, your feedback is obtained by questionnaires, group discussions or written student reports. This data is carefully analysed and plays a major role in ongoing monitoring and consequently in the operation and delivery of the course you are undertaking. The information gathered enables staff to respond to student needs in an informed way. It will also highlight those parts of the course that students perceive to be successful and areas where they perceive change to be required.
Course Revalidation and Review
For Higher Education qualifications, your course will either go through a process of enhanced monitoring, or revalidation, periodically – about every six years. Revalidation is used where major changes to the content and structure are proposed by staff. Revalidation is carried out by the Colleges with advice from academic staff from across the University and external subject experts. Enhanced Monitoring is used where no major changes are proposed but external experts are asked to review the course team’s own analysis. This analysis includes looking at course strengths and weaknesses as well as proposals for improvement. Further Education qualifications are nationally accredited and not subject to the procedure above.
Election and Training for Student Representatives
Student elections for Course Representatives are held after week two and no later than week four at the beginning of each academic year.
The Students’ Union (SU) then runs a training programme for all elected Reps to familiarise them with their role. The training involves discussion of the Student Representative’s role, preparation of agenda items and participation in meetings. It also covers problems that Student Reps may encounter and how to deal with them. It aims to encourage students to make use of their position with maximum personal gain and satisfaction.
The training for Course Reps normally lasts for a morning or an afternoon (less or more can be arranged if preferred). Elections are held for Academic Representatives, Boards of Studies Reps and College Academic Committee Reps from those present at the first Student and Dean Forum each year. Student Representatives for the Academic Board and the Academic Quality and Standards Committee are held at the first meeting of the Students’ Union Student Executive.
There may be occasions on which Committees discuss sensitive matters. If there is a formal ruling that discussion should proceed on a confidential basis, students, like all other members, have a duty to observe the University’s standing orders on confidentiality. In these circumstances, Representatives should not discuss the Committee’s deliberations with other students.
How Can Students Play an Effective Part in Quality Assurance?
It is important that you make your views known to your Representatives as the academic year progresses. The Course or Programme Committee is probably the most important and immediate forum for you, as a student, since it deals with matters directly related to your course experience. It provides a formal channel for students to meet with staff and discuss the operation of the course.
Issues that students may wish to raise in a Course or Programme Committee, but that fall outside the remit of that Committee, may be passed, if relevant, to the School Board or College Academic Committee. Alternatively, other channels are available for matters that are not course-related, e.g. Student Services, the Equal Opportunities Forum or the Students’ Union, which can deal with queries and problems. The SU Central Office is always available for assistance on any matter if you cannot contact anyone on your College site.
Take the selection of Student Representatives seriously. Your Representative is your voice; the attitude and commitment of the person elected really matters. Support your Student Representatives. Make your views known; be prepared to be consulted and to help your Representative understand what the balance of student opinion is. Be prepared to think about things in-depth so that your views are informed and constructive. Not all problems can be solved, but informed input from students can help to manage problems more effectively and improve the quality of courses.
Make a contribution to the academic community and stand for election as a Student Representative. Representation is a challenge and you will gain confidence and experience, which will always be useful. If elected, remember that the Chair and staff members are anxious that Student Representatives play their full part.
Ask the Chair or University Secretary and Registrar for any help you feel you need in dealing with Committee procedure. Don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation if you do not understand a point, as you will often find other members are grateful for the clarification. If you find ‘breaking in’ to the discussion difficult, let the Chair know beforehand of your wish to speak on a particular agenda item. He/she can then invite you to put your point. Remember, it gets easier each time you speak.
Act now – don’t let small problems develop into major problems. Use the many formal and informal channels to express your views, as informal communication complements the formal structures.