Tutors told: make students priority

July 28, 2006

Academics at the University of the Arts London were told to improve their treatment of students after an internal review revealed concerns about learning and teaching across its constituent colleges.

According to a leaked summary of a report, students had a wide range of concerns about their experience, including disrupted timetables, lack of access to their tutors, poor feedback on their work and perceived unfair assessment practices.

The summary was written in January by Sandra Holtby, the former head of the London College of Fashion, and was intended for senior LCF staff.

But while Ms Holtby's briefing contains specific references to the LCF, it also gives a clear insight into the full report, which criticises the learning experience at all five colleges of the university.

Her summary reveals that a "key recommendation" of the university-wide report is that "communication to students must improve".

Ms Holtby says in the briefing that the LCF "must demonstrate that we engage with students' concerns... the student experience must be improved and students must be involved in new initiatives".

According to Ms Holtby's summary, the university-wide report says that while the quality of the student experience "must always be considered the priority", it is being "undermined" by an absence of management guidance for staff, a lack of resources and pressure on academic time.

It found that student access to staff was "an ongoing concern", with just two of the university's six colleges providing a formal student entitlement to at least one 20-minute, one-to-one tutorial each term.

It says that providing feedback on assessments to students "must be improved". The time taken to provide students with feedback on their work varies from "ten working days" to "no agreed timescale" and its quality and helpfulness is highly variable.

The report also says: "The assessment arrangements and marking are perceived to be unfair." Ms Holtby reports: "Organisation and management within LCF received the lowest grade in the university. Management of a coherent and reliable timetable was an issue in all colleges."

A spokesman for the university said: "Like many universities, the University of the Arts London has been taking a long hard look at ways of enhancing the student experience, as the continuous improvement in this area is a university priority." The university was placed second from bottom in a table on overall satisfaction in the 2005 national student survey.

The spokesman said that the internal report had been commissioned to be "deliberately hard-hitting and critical" but he said it was now "out of date" having been superseded by "a raft of activity".

He said this included the appointment of a dean of students and a dean of learning and teaching development, as well as the development of a university-wide tutorial policy to formalise and standardise the time students spend with tutors.

Sir Michael Bichard, rector, said: "The university is driven to see students succeed academically, creatively and professionally during their time at the university and beyond."

  • Grade inquiry

    The London College of Fashion has denied that overseas students had their grades raised under a system of "special allowances", following an internal investigation.

    The Times Higher reported last week that leaked e-mail correspondence revealed that a course director had urged a colleague to increase the mark given to one student. The e-mail says: "She is an international student, so normally we would give her an allowance for that."

    When pressed, course director Susan Bishop repeated that another course director, Alan Russell, had said that "we make allowances for international students".

    This week the LCF issued a statement saying that it had completed an internal investigation. It found that: "The college has no policy, either formal or informal, that affords special treatment to overseas students."

    It adds that the mark in question had not been raised and that the external examiner had verified the fairness of internal marking.

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