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Reflections on the 2020 Advance HE Surveys & Insights Conference

14 May 2020 | Jonathan Neves Following Advance HE’s Surveys & Insights conference, delivered online on 29 April, Head of Business Intelligence & Surveys Jonathan Neves reflects on the variety of perspectives provided for measuring the student voice and driving enhancement.

The 2020 Surveys & Insights conference, sponsored by Explorance, was the first major conference that Advance HE had delivered online during the current lockdown. This was both exciting and a little nerve-wracking for colleagues in charge of the arrangements, however, it was a really positive and enjoyable day, providing an opportunity for the surveys community to get together virtually to share best practice across a range of themes. Due to the online format, we had a smaller number of presentations than usual, which meant we had to make some difficult decisions from the range of excellent submissions we received. However, we were excited about the variety and content, featuring presentations from the UK and globally.

Generational divides

To start things off we were delighted to welcome keynote speaker Dr Paul Redmond, Director of Student Experience & Enhancement at the University of Liverpool. Paul is recognised as a leading expert on generations and the future of work, and he gave an entertaining talk discussing how students of today – Generation Y and now Generation Z, see the world and the workplace.

Aside from these Generations not understanding why a ‘phone’ was ever referred to as a ‘mobile phone’ – surely all phones were always mobile? - there were more serious points about how to engage with generations who do not buy into the concepts of presenteeism and punctuality when all the technology in their own lives can function irrespective of time and location. A key aspect of Paul’s talk focused on how brands, employers, and of course, universities need to demonstrate the “why”, or in other words to create a sense of pride and belonging, in order to fully engage with these generations.

Focus on engagement

Our next presentation welcomed Dr Melinda Laundon from Queensland University of Technology, who took us through a pan-Australasian study of Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) Surveys. A striking aspect of the study was the degree of co-operation between different institutions in order to obtain the data. It was also interesting to understand more about how SET data is used and the critical role it can play. Some of the response rates showcased from the SET surveys were very strong, and there is an understandable focus on how to continue to engage respondents in these surveys.

Andrea Didier from East London University then presented exciting results from a survey-based intervention project conducted with new entrants before they joined, aimed at easing the transition to university. The project has delivered some clear, positive outcomes that are helping to boost retention and close the BAME attainment gap among participants – a major achievement.

In our next session, Bethan Foweraker and David Jones from Cardiff Metropolitan University showcased the findings from a survey-based investigation into the issues faced by students with specific learning difficulties – a cohort who report lower than average levels of satisfaction. This study went right to the heart of the student experience, identifying specific barriers faced and, importantly, highlighting recommendations for how the institution can aim to address them. This study demonstrated a clear commitment to making these learners feel they are having the best possible experience.

International perspectives

Our next talk gave us another international perspective. Dr Deborah Werner and Kathrin Mueller from the Centre for Higher Education in Germany introduced the international university ranking ‘U-Multirank’ in terms of its methodology and how it differs from other prominent global university rankings in measuring excellence. Specifically, the presentation focused on the issue of gender diversity and the Multirank gender balance indicator, which is the first of its kind to provide international comparison at department level, promoting a genuine focus on measuring diversity. 

Kicking off our afternoon session, Andrea Todd from the University of Chester delivered a compelling case for staff engagement within module evaluation. In many cases, module evaluation is something that academic staff do not feel fully engaged with but they need to be a critical part of the overall solution for driving enhancement. Hence, engaging staff and helping them feel support to receive and discuss feedback delivered a powerful message.

Postgraduate enhancement

Our next presentation, from Caroline Heaton at Sheffield Hallam University focused on the key issue of student Wellbeing, specifically from a Postgraduate Researcher (PGR) Perspective. Advance HE’s PRES survey is the main sector-wide measure of the PGR experience, and Caroline’s project has investigated some specific aspects identified by the institution’s own PRES results and open comments and is driving forward a strategy for enhancement. Such a dedicated focus on the PGR experience was welcome to see.

In our final session, we looked again at student module evaluations but this time from a student perspective. Dr Elena Zaitseva from Liverpool John Moores University discussed an initiative to make the student voice central to the institutional module evaluation survey by developing a student-led question bank. It was interesting that while, as we saw earlier, staff have concerns about module evaluation, so do the students if they feel that the questions do not reflect what is important to them. This project, through the use of Q-Methodology, created a dedicated student question bank which has been adopted across the institution.

The conference covered a lot of ground, highlighting the role that surveys and insights can play in capturing the student voice and informing change.

In these times, it is particularly vital to make sure the student voice is represented, and I hope that the sessions covered by our presenters and the discussion around them has provided plenty of ideas as to how to do that. In terms of Advance HE’s sector student surveys (PRES, PTES and UKES), we remain committed to delivering the results on schedule, providing key comparisons with the sector and opportunities to cut the data pre or post-lockdown for comparison. We look forward to supporting you over the next few months and beyond.


These are some of the highlights from our 2020 Surveys and Insights Conference, for information on our student experience and engagement surveys, UKES, SAES, PTES and PRES, visit our website.


Heading up the insights and student surveys portfolio at Advance HE, Jonathan leads the reporting and coverage of the Student Academic Experience Survey (co-published with the Higher Education Policy Institute), and is responsible for the overall strategy for the UK Engagement Survey as well as the Postgraduate Taught and Research Experience Surveys (PTES and PRES).

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