Course value means more than graduate employment, says UUK

Representative body says institutions should consider contextual data on issues such as local and NHS employment, alongside metrics preferred by ministers

January 17, 2022
One bad apple - one rotten apple in a group of a dozen apples.
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Universities in England are being encouraged to use “contextual” measures when attempting to identify the value of courses, including whether they support the local economy, creative industries and public professions such as teaching and nursing.

Setting out a framework for reviewing course value, the result of a pilot with almost a dozen institutions, Universities UK said institutions should still seek to use “core” metrics like student satisfaction, course outcomes and graduate employment as measures.

But the document, a policy response from the sector to the Westminster government’s wish to target “low-value” or “low-quality” courses, also suggests contextual metrics that could be used to “reflect the wider environment in which students choose a course”.

An executive summary to the framework acknowledges that there is a strong interest “from students, the Office for Students (OfS) and government in England about the quality and value of courses” and that “it is in universities’ interests to address perceptions of low-quality courses”.

“However, regulation and funding based on narrow graduate outcome measures will harm the government’s ability to support levelling up, improve social mobility and deliver student choice,” it adds.

The framework itself says that when reviewing courses provision, universities should “integrate at least one or more” metrics from three “core” areas: student and graduate views; student outcomes; and graduate prospects. These metrics include publicly available datasets such as the National Student Survey, continuation rates and the Graduate Outcomes survey.

But the framework then also suggests the additional use of “potential contextual measures that demonstrate the value of a course and how this aligns with student needs and key government priority areas, including support for local and national economic growth and social responsibility”.

On economic growth, these measures include the share of graduates who find employment or further study locally and the proportion working in high-growth industries, especially in poorer areas.

In terms of social responsibility, it suggests universities can look at attainment gaps between different groups of students, the contribution to essential public services such as the NHS and teaching, or how many graduates work in creative industries.

As well as setting out the framework on course monitoring, it also asks institutions to publish a statement covering the steps they have taken in the area by early 2023.

Julia Buckingham, chair of UUK’s advisory group for programme reviews and former UUK president, said that universities “must be able to communicate why they offer the courses they do, and the value of those courses, to prospective students, employers and the public”.

“Although UK universities have a strong track record of delivering high-quality courses which equip students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to progress to rewarding careers, universities know there is a need to address public concerns about potentially low-value courses,” she said.

“This framework will help universities take a more consistent and transparent approach to annual course reviews and support them in taking decisive action should a course fall below the high, world-class standards they rightly set.”

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