The results of the National Student Survey 2015 published on the 12th August revealed that UEA has fallen to 168th place nationwide amongst all higher education institutions for satisfaction on coursework return times. Despite UEA performing highly for overall student satisfaction, students appeared to be significantly dissatisfied when asked whether “feedback on my work has been prompt”.
The results were disappointing for UEA which last year promised to return all coursework to students within 20 days of submission.
The survey asked full-time, final-year undergraduate taught students across the UK to rank their university against a variety of criteria, including academic, housing and student support.
Undergraduate Education Officer Connor Rand commented on the news of the results, saying that: “For a top 20 university to come 168th of UK institutions at satisfaction with coursework return times is simply not good enough. Getting work back on time is not a luxury- it’s essential to learning so that it can impact on the next piece of work that students do”.
Satisfaction with timely feedback varies hugely between faculties; with Medicine, Natural Sciences and Social Work missing an impressive 0% of their four week deadline while English and Literature, Drama and Creative Writing missing 53% and 57% respectively.
Professor Neil Ward, UEA’s pro-vice chancellor stated in regards to this outcome: “the university has been working closely with the Students’ Union over the past year to improve the management of assessment and feedback. These have included the production of ‘revised guidance’ to schools of study, jointly drafted with the Students’ Union and the introduction of new staff in academic hubs to improve the management of information to Schools to highlight when problems are emerging with coursework turnaround”.
He added that “the overall level of satisfaction with assessment and feedback improved very marginally, but not at the rate that the university wishes to see, and as a result the rank position worsened.” He argued that despite the poor feedback ranking it is “clear that UEA students are relatively satisfied that assessment and marking is fair” with the university ranking 16th amongst English mainstream universities. It is the “timeliness of return of feedback, where we must improve further”.
Many students are, however, concerned by the delay in returning coursework. Elea Street, a second year English Literature student, said: “Paying £9000 a year is a big investment, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect coursework to be returned within a month. I think it’s important that work is returned quickly, otherwise it’s difficult to take the suggestions offered and apply them to other essays, in order to make improvements and progress”.
When asked what the university plans to do to address these concerns, Ward responded that “all schools are reviewing their performance on assessment and feedback… and there is particularly detailed work underway with the seven schools that account for the vast majority of cases of late-returned work to help ensure significant improvements in the coming academic year”.
The reasons for the long delays in coursework return times and the failure to meet university imposed targets vary between departments, according to Ward. They “include issues of large marking teams on the largest modules, staff illness or unavoidable absence, and some technical and administrative problems”.
The vice chancellor went on to say that the university “very much hopes to see performance in this area, and resultant student satisfaction, improve in the coming academic year”.
[su_spoiler title=”Meg Bradbury questions the value of league tables” style=”simple” icon=”chevron-circle” anchor=”Comment”]Surveys and league tables are rarely a useful way of casting definitive judgement on anything when looked at in isolation. For starters, there are simply too many of them. When applying to university, A Level students are often advised to research how the institutions they are considering perform in surveys and where they are ranked in the league tables for particular courses etc. but it is entirely possible for a university which ranks very highly in certain polls to be ranked very lowly in others, and it is very difficult to know which to give precedence to.
The case of UEA in the NSS is a prime example of this. For UEA to be ranked as second for Overall Satisfaction levels looks impressive – and it is, especially when you consider the university’s very credible record in this area – but if you take into account its being ranked 168th for coursework return times, this gives a very different impression. Which, statistic is the prospective student supposed to pay the most attention to? There is no way of telling.
The idea that statistics mean little in the face of individual cases should also be taken into account. It is clear, therefore, that the NSS can’t definitively tell us much about UEA. Unfortunately though, until we can come up with a fairer, more efficient method of comparison, this is all we’ve got to go on.[/su_spoiler]