January 2013

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Graduate satisfaction survey: opportunity for enhancement of programmes

Miquel Vidal Espinar - Institutional review issues to AQU

EnquestesOne of the core instruments for the strategy of continuous enhancement for the universities is programme monitoring. This process is currently partially reviewed by AQU Catalunya, although in the medium term it will need to be one of each institution's regular activities, irrespective of any external evaluation, within the framework of the processes defined and implemented according to its internal quality assurance system.

Programme monitoring uses, amongst other things, academic outcome indicators and other quantitative and qualitative data (such as stakeholder satisfaction and graduate employment) to analyse the degree programme and come up with proposals for enhancement. A series of indicators are available to departments and faculties via the UNEIX platform that can be used to reflect on key dimensions in their assessment of the quality of programmes of study, such as indicators on admission and enrolment, student characteristics, teacher profiles and academic outcomes, amongst other things. A series of reliable and uniform indicators is thereby made available for comparative analyses of different aspects within the framework of higher education in Catalonia. University departments and faculties will obviously also need to have their own indicators obtained through the implementation of their own internal quality assurance systems.

Up until now, the development by the universities of key indicators, such as those connected with stakeholder satisfaction, and in particular of the students, has been patchy. In this context, one practice that has become consolidated is the gathering of information on student satisfaction at the course and teacher level. This is not the case however regarding their satisfaction early on in their studies, which is considered to be a key moment for detecting problems such as difficulties in the transition (from secondary education) to university that can lead to students dropping out (early leavers). Another practice that is not habitual is the gathering of information on student satisfaction regarding their studies at university at the time of completion of their studies (graduation), which provides a necessary overview for programme enhancement.

Although there are records of the existence of various experiences and good practices with degree programmes in some faculties and institutions, the monitoring progress reports reviewed by AQU Catalunya show that these instruments are not regularly applied, that student satisfaction is not taken into account in an orderly or significant way in programme enhancement, and that no uniform use is made across higher education in Catalonia of any tool for the comparative, systematic and transversal analysis of student satisfaction, i.e. that stakeholder satisfaction continues to be absent in programme monitoring and enhancement in higher education in general in Catalonia.

In this context, AQU Catalunya, under the auspices of the Directorate General for Universities, has taken the initiative to produce a survey on student satisfaction. Out of the various existing options to fill the gaps that have been detected (for example, a first year survey, or surveys on completion of undergraduate and Master's degrees), it was decided that the most appropriate survey to begin with is one on student satisfaction at the time of graduation. The aim of this project is to define a survey model that can be included with other instruments used on a regular basis by the universities in programme monitoring and accreditation to establish common key dimensions that enable programme coordinators and managers to improve and enhance degree programmes, and to establish equivalent values across higher education in Catalonia for purposes of comparative analysis.

The survey has been designed to incorporate good practices from higher education in Catalonia, based on the series of surveys currently available in Catalan universities, as well as international models. In this context, it should be pointed out that instruments with a highly consolidated experience and track record were examined, such as the National Student Survey of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the National Survey of Student Engagement, which covers universities in the United States and Canada. The recommendations regarding the use of indicators on student satisfaction proposed by the Multidimensional Global University Ranking (U-multirank) project were also taken into account.

The structure of the survey produced by AQU Catalunya consists of three main units to cover, in overall terms, the opinions of students regarding their satisfaction in terms of learning outcomes and the delivery and development of their degree studies. The first unit contains a series of questions to identify the students and their admission to undergraduate studies, together with their motivations and the duration of their studies. The second unit contains a "General assessment of the degree", the purpose of which is to provide an overview of student satisfaction regarding their degree studies with a limited number of questions. The third unit ("Specific assessment of the dimensions of the degree") is broken down into sub-sections to obtain more detailed information on different aspects and elements connected with quality of their degree studies, namely "Structure, competence profile and organisation", "Teachers and academic support", "Teaching methodology and assessment", "Work experience, placement and mobility", "Final-year project/dissertation", "Physical resources and learning support", "Personal development and acquired core competences" and "Information, participation and social environment".

And what else? Use of this proposed survey will not be successful without the complicity and involvement of the system in general of higher education in Catalonia. In the first stage, important contributions and highly positive comments were made by AQU's Student Commission for the initial design of the survey. The survey was subsequently presented at a meeting between AQU Catalunya, the vice-rectors for quality and academic governance and the quality units from the Catalan universities, held in October. The current objective is to create a stable workgroup, with representatives from all of the universities, not just to fine tune the survey's design, but also to decide on how to continue to implement it.

Following an initial stage in which a pilot test is to be carried out with a representative fraction of both courses and students in higher education, the aim in the short-term is for the universities to take over and carry out the survey themselves, as a complementary instrument to their usual practices of gathering information for the purposes of continuous programme enhancement.

When the gathering of information on student satisfaction vis-à-vis the comprehensiveness of the study programme has become a consolidated, regular practice that produces visible results, and we trust that this will be soon, we are certain that the results of the satisfaction survey will naturally serve as a key starting point for decision-making in connection with programme enhancement, as is the case in higher education systems elsewhere.


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