DSU worst for “representing students’ academic interests” for the fourth year

By

The 2023 National Student Survey ranked Durham SU last, with only 33.8% of Durham students responding positively to the question: “How well does the students’ union (association or guild) represent students’ academic interests?” The UK average was 71.9%.

This is an improvement from last year when 27% answered positively. However, the survey organisers said, “The removal of the ‘neutral’ response option in 2023 means that we would expect more students to respond positively in 2023, regardless of any change in the student experience.”

The NSS revised the questions slightly for this year; previously respondents were asked to respond to the statement: “The students’ union (association or guild) effectively represents students’ academic interests.”

The SU’s Undergraduate Academic Officer William Brown told Palatinate, “This year’s NSS results give us valuable insight into students’ Durham experience. One clear trend in the data is that Durham is not good at listening to its students. It is the SU’s duty to ensure our members are heard, and we recognise that there is still significant room for improvement. 

“The removal of the ‘neutral’ response option in 2023 means that we would expect more students to respond positively in 2023, regardless of any change in the student experience.”

National Student survey

“However, this problem extends well beyond the SU – the University scored in the bottom quartile nationally for the questions regarding students’ opportunities for giving feedback on their course and their feedback being listened to by the University. Indeed, the University has not finished in the top 50% of institutions on any student voice question in the last five years. Clearly, the current mechanisms through which students’ academic interests are represented are not working, and we are already exploring ways to significantly reform and improve these.”

The ‘student voice’ section of the survey asks students about opportunities to give feedback on their course, and whether students feel that staff value and act on this feedback.

“As your new Undergraduate Academic Officer, I will also use the NSS to inform my priorities for the coming year. I am particularly alarmed by Durham’s very poor performance when students were asked about the clarity of marking criteria and the utility of markers’ feedback, and I will be lobbying the University hard for tangible and rapid improvements in these areas.”

Previous Durham SU President Seun Twins told Palatinate in 2021 – after the SU was the worst nationally for the second year running –that the question is “widely recognised as a flawed question”. She claimed that “academic interests are not what students associate with their SU and are only a small part of the rich student experience at Durham”. The NSS reviewed this question, along with the rest of the survey, last year and decided to retain the academic interests question for the 2023 survey.

“I am particularly alarmed by Durham’s very poor performance when students were asked about the clarity of marking criteria and the utility of markers’ feedback.”

William Brown, DSU undergraduate academic officer

The survey also asks students about their university experience. Durham University’s scores were above average when students were asked about teaching quality, academic support and course organisation.

For example, 91% of students described their course as fairly or very often ‘intellectually stimulating,’ and 89% of students found it easy or very easy to contact academic teaching and learning staff. However, Durham was below average on ‘assessment and feedback’, and ‘student voice’. There was also disparity between subjects, with undergraduates from certain subject areas ranking their experience far lower than others.

For example on theme 3 in the NSS survey, which asks students about their experiences of marking and assessment, computing has the worst score out of all subject areas with 53.5%. Only 38.5% of computing students surveyed felt that the feedback they received helped them to improve their work. The UK average in the survey was 72.2%, and the Durham average was 67.1%.

When asked ‘How clear is it that students’ feedback on the course is acted on?,’ the University scored 52%. The national average was 60.9%. The majority of design, creative and performing arts students; language and area studies; law; computing; geography; maths; and history students responded negatively to this question.

While Durham’s positivity score for the question, ‘To what extent are students’ opinions about the course valued,’ was 73.4%  – close to the nationwide average of 74.44% – only 47.66% of computing students, 66.1% of maths students, and 64.9% of law students agreed.

“We welcome the feedback we receive from our students through the National Student Survey, as well as in other formats, and listen carefully.”

Professor Tony fawcett, pro-vice-chancellor (education)

Professor Tony Fawcett, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), said: “We aim to provide our students with the very best education and wider student experience.

“This feedback from our final-year students in this year’s survey is encouraging, especially as they have experienced the impact of the global pandemic and, for many, the disruption of industrial action.

“We welcome the feedback we receive from our students through the National Student Survey, as well as in other formats, and listen carefully.

“As well as telling us what we are doing well, the NSS provides valuable information that helps us to understand where we might improve. We are looking closely at the survey to identify where we can take positive action for the benefit of our current and future students.”

Image: Amana Moore

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.