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Building on the work of our previous reports, this annual report on trends in student feedback now draws on the largest evidence base ever for such a report, with analysis drawn from over 370 sets of Student Staff Consultative Committee (SSCC) minutes in 2018-19 and 2019-20. This includes analysis of over 70 SSCC meetings since the Coronavirus pandemic drastically altered education at UCL in March 2020, providing an initial snapshot into the issues raised in these meetings compared to when teaching operated as normal. Further analysis covering this new landscape in more depth, including feedback from SSCC meetings taking place during the 2020-21 academic year, will be covered in our next report.

As with previous editions of the report, we have continued to build on our qualitative coding system, providing a rigorous statistical basis for the choice of topics for this report. We categorise student comments which relate to a particular aspect of their UCL experience, and note whether they have expressed this negatively, neutrally, or positively.

For this report, we have delved deeper into the areas commented on most frequently, most negatively, and most positively. We have focused on what students have indicated are their highest priorities, and put forward recommendations for action based on a review of individual students’ comments in these areas.

Students provide an enormous amount of feedback to UCL and the Union, both formally and informally, and whilst up-to-date information on the positives and negatives of the student experience has perhaps never been more crucial, it is important to remember that unnecessary requests for feedback can create a sense amongst the student body that nothing is being done on feedback that has already been submitted. This report is not just about providing a snapshot on student issues, but also about digging into it, understanding it, and hopefully taking action on it.

In the current circumstances, listening to what students are saying and acting on this information is as vital as it has ever been, and we hope that this report is useful in painting a picture of student opinion on the academic experience across the whole of UCL, complimenting the individual feedback mechanisms that take place already at programme, department and faculty level.

Ayman Benmati
Education Officer 2020-21

There is both overlap and variation between what our SSCC analysis highlighted as students’ most positive feedback in 2019 and this report. As ever, students are typically most positive about individual experiences that they have within a particular module, however within this year’s report this was more focused on examples of excellent teaching delivery rather than the content of their programmes and the modules themselves.

The area of Social & Community was also highlighted in the last two editions of this report. As in these previous reports, students placed a high value on the sense of belonging to a cohort and community on campus, and appreciated effective efforts to help foster this through events and other such initiatives. Despite the enormously challenging circumstances Covid-19 has caused for building this sense of community, students were appreciative of efforts to maintain this sense of belonging online. 

The area of Student Development and Employability is new to this year’s report, with students expressing an appreciation when developing skills was made possible either within or alongside their modules. An area which has received particularly positive feedback in meetings that have taken place since the pandemic is Learning Resources, with students giving thanks to those courses and departments who quickly and effectively adapted their resources to online learning.

On the negative experiences highlighted within this report, there are also some consistencies with last year. The issue of Teaching Rooms has now been raised in the last four versions of this report, with many students reporting that the rooms provided were not big enough for the size of the cohort in question.

Issues surrounding assessment have also been raised previously, however the nature of these issues has slightly shifted. This year students have expressed concerns in the areas of Timing of Assessment, as well as issues regarding Assessment Criteria and the Promptness of Feedback once an assessment had been handed in. This paints a worrying picture for a number of areas in the assessment process, especially when compared to last year’s report, which only included issues with Assessment Preparation.

Since the pandemic, there has unsurprisingly been a higher proportion of negative feedback on the issue of Fees & Funding, with many students no longer feeling that they are getting value for money from their UCL experience. Another issue that has been particularly prevalent since the impact of Covid-19 is that of communication, which is understandably challenging for UCL at both a departmental and institution-wide level during this period but which has nevertheless seen many students feeling uninformed and out of the loop regarding changes to their education. 

Teaching Delivery

Teaching delivery received the highest number of positive comments within the data analysed for this report, with many SSCC reps going out of their way to pass on praise or positive comments on the quality of teaching within specific modules or programmes.

Many of these comments cover obvious areas of potential good-practice within teaching, such as having lecturers who are engaging and approachable, and students were particularly appreciative whenever these qualities were maintained as teaching moved online. There were also many positive references to the ability of teaching staff to break down difficult concepts and explain them effectively, as well as providing relevant examples and additional resources to aid such explanations.

Students told us:

  • “The module lead makes sure that all the students understand material covered in each lecture”.
  • “Content was delivered well with good accompanying resources (comprehensive reading lists and other resources to aid learning)”.
  •  “The lecturer is very organised, clear and recaps difficult concepts a lot”.
  • “Students enjoyed the lectures very much as they were relaxed and students felt at ease, students were encouraged to talk freely”.
  • “The Professor was approachable and willing to help students”.

Points of good practice:

  • Setting time aside for Q & As to ensure that relevant concepts are understood and that any areas of potential confusion can be worked through, as well as giving students the chance to harness the teacher’s expertise. 
  • As most teaching has moved online, feedback about whether live or pre-recorded lectures are preferred has been mixed. However, students consistently highlighted as good practice continuing to provide the opportunities for interaction with teaching staff on top of lectures, whether in the form of message boards, responsiveness via email or live Q & As to accompany pre-recorded lectures.
  • Building in collaborative teaching methods, including small group teaching in the form of discussion groups or practice tutor groups.

Social & Community

Students were consistently pleased when they were given an opportunity to interact with others, whether this was within their cohort, with different years of study or with students on other courses in their department. These opportunities can come in many forms, ranging from larger events such as away days and residentials to socials on campus. Students reported that these interactions not only improved their sense of belonging at UCL, but also helped with their academic experience by improving engagement with their course and providing a refreshing break from their normal routine.

The moving of most teaching online since March 2020 has significantly increased the challenges of creating a sense of community within courses and putting on effective socials. However, where this has worked well within specific courses or departments, the students have registered their appreciation and enjoyment, helping to reduce their sense of isolation despite the current circumstances.

Students told us:

  • “Overall, students were very happy with the programme and they highlighted the socials as being a great opportunity to get to know everyone in the Division”.
  • “Student reps highlighted how group meetings, including the social meetings, have been useful. The meetings help concentration and provide some level of engagement. The email reminders about Science Coffee and afternoon refreshments are useful as they remind everyone that these things are taking place and students are welcome to join. The meetings break up what might be sitting in the same place every day”.
  • “Students have been appreciative of the Institute arranged online meetings to socialise and provide a Q & A session”.
  • “Students enjoyed the virtual Open Day as they were able to attend a lecture which they felt they were having withdrawal symptoms from. That the upcoming Taster Day had sold 100 tickets was cited as an excellent result for the Department and existing students were generally very happy that the Department were continuing to run events so that they still felt (and wanted to feel) that they were students at UCL”.

Points of good practice:

  • When arranging any events or trips, ensure that they are scheduled away from any major assessment deadlines within the group the event is aimed at, to improve both attendance at the event and the level of enjoyment students have when they are there.
  • Make sure promotion and communication for any events or trips is effective and widespread. If an event or trip does not receive high attendance, make sure to check with students as to whether they were aware of the event or not, and if they were aware why they decided not to attend.
  • Where possible, open up social events and mixers to the whole department, as students often highlighted being able to meet people outside of their normal cohort as a positive of such events.
  • Online events can be difficult to organise and have mixed success, so keep checking in with students about what platforms and event styles work best for them when organising online socials or mixers. Where you have had success with a particular event type or style, try and share this practice with other staff and departments, as they are also searching for the best way to react to the current circumstances.  

Skills Development and Employability 

Students provided positive feedback on the occasions when they felt like they were developing specific skills as part of their education at UCL. Some of the most positive comments regarding specific modules came when students felt like they had improved not just their knowledge in a particular area but also in their ability to perform a task or function which they were lacking in before. Feedback was especially positive when practising this skill was well-integrated into students’ general learning. 

Students told us:

  • “Students fed back that they were being encouraged to develop their critical and analytical thinking skills by being encouraged to interpret and explain data themselves (rather than having module leads presenting their own interpretations and explanations)”.
  • “It was noted that there were useful modules on such skills as writing abstracts, poster preparation, managing workload etc. that students could access via the Doctoral School Training programme”.
  • “A workshop was arranged for report writing which students had found very helpful in writing a 1st class report”.
  • “The field trip was a good experience in enabling students to see how to apply things in the field”.
  • “Skills acquired through the core modules were useful and valued”.

Points of good practice:

  • Integrate skills development work into existing modules, such as through separate workshops on particularly pertinent areas like report writing, presentation skills or data analysis. Where such areas or skills need to be covered in depth, consider whether providing separate modules on such areas would be beneficial.
  • Where work inside the classroom is insufficient to develop a particular skill or ability to conduct fieldwork, give students the opportunity to develop skills through alternative methods, such as through lab work or field trips.
  • Ensure that students are aware of existing skills development opportunities that are available at UCL, including those which may be particularly beneficial in aiding their learning for their chosen discipline.

Student Voice

As in the previous version of this report, students were pleased when they felt that their voices were being heard and acted on within the SSCC system. Students reported their encouragement that feedback was acted upon quickly, particularly when this was in time for their cohort to receive the benefit of any changes. Appreciation was also expressed for staff and departments who adapted to more online forms of feedback to accompany existing structures, particularly after the pandemic moved most meetings online and the presence of Unitu increased. 

Students told us:

  • “An MRes student commented that they had a positive experience of being a representative, as they have seen gradual changes to the content of the MRes programme, which was initiated by student feedback”.
  • “The students were really appreciative that the comments were being addressed during the year and not just for future cohorts”.
  • “The student representatives discussed how some of the module tutors had asked for mid-term feedback and that they students found this really helpful”.
  • “It was noted that the recent utilisation of Microsoft Teams to foster communication between the Departmental Tutor/DSSCC Chair and the Student Reps was beneficial, and should be implemented from the beginning of the academic year”.
  • “Rep stated Unitu was a great platform and it was great at achieving student feedback on a range of issues”.

Points of good practice:

  • Students appreciated an iterative feedback process, where changes were made quickly enough for them to feel the benefits of changes rather than just the next cohort. Where possible, implement feedback quickly, and conduct a quick check-in whilst modules are still going on so that any small changes can be implemented before the end of teaching.
  • Incorporating online methods of feedback offers new opportunities both during and after the pandemic. Ensure that communication with reps is as effective online as it was offline, and make sure that when Unitu is used that comments are regularly acted on and responded to.
  • At a time when gathering up-to-date and indicative student feedback is perhaps more crucial than ever, it is important to bear in mind that many students may be less responsive because of ‘survey fatigue’, feeling like any further feedback is just another form to fil out. With this in mind, try and use information available from existing sources (such as UCL-wide survey results, Unitu, SSCC meetings or even this report) before rolling out any new surveys. Where a new survey is required, ensure that it is concise, easy to use and contains only limited or simple questions wherever possible.

Category which has done particularly well since Covid-19: Learning Resources

As teaching has had to move online due to the pandemic, students have expressed their appreciation for occasions when learning resources have continued to be provided, and for the extra steps that staff and departments have taken to ensure that resources are available despite the disruption.

Students told us:

  • “Students confirmed that they are using e-journals and the online library resources available to them”.
  • “It was welcomed that the department have produced advice on approaches to virtual fieldwork”.
  • “The students appreciated that the course materials had been kept to date and updated regularly, e.g. reference lists updated”.
  • “Students have specifically mentioned the workbook provided which students find very useful as it provides a systematic way of working through the content. Specific thanks were made to the team in charge of providing the content for their very useful introductory video clips”.

Points of good practice:

  • Make sure that all information that students need for home working is readily available in a and in the appropriate format (e.g. as a searchable PDF document).
  • Ensure that students are aware of where they can find additional resources which may be of use, such as in the UCL online library.
  • Incorporate digital and video content as additional resources where appropriate.

Timing of Assessment

Students reported issues with how their assessments were staggered and scheduled throughout the academic year, and when the issue of assessment timing was discussed the feedback was overwhelmingly negative. The most negative comments related to assessments being bunched too closely together, causing students stress and making time management and effective preparation for the assessments at hand more difficult. Students also complained about occasions where information on assessment timing was unclear, contradictory across different sources of information or changed at short notice, highlighting the effect these issues can have on their performance in these assessments.

Most of the issues raised within this area pre-date the SSCC meetings which took place after the pandemic, and in meetings since March 2020, similar complaints can be found around assessment clustering and inconsistent communication. However, some students did raise the issue of extensions within certain assessments, particularly coursework, which cause clustering with work scheduled further down the line, so it is important to bear this in mind when considering the changing of assessment timing due to current circumstances.

Students told us:

  • “Students within these programmes each have four assignments due within a one week period. Students were unable to stay on track and the narrow timescales meant they were not understanding the material. Some assignments had been issued with a one week turnaround time and no prior notice”.
  • “Some students have commented that the timing of the submission of the dissertation can affect students’ mental health as it clashes with deadlines for other modules, so asked if the deadline could be pushed back”.
  • “Many students felt unhappy with the short notice they were given for the date and time of their presentation slots, due to work/childcare commitments etc.”.
  • “To better manage time some students avoid doing coursework on a topic that was more interesting to them in favour of another topic that was taught earlier on in the course”.
  • “There was some confusion around the submission deadline for the essay. Students received communication about the change of deadline by email, but this was not changed on Moodle”.

Points for improvement:

  • Stagger different assessment deadlines so they do not fall too closely together for a large contingent of students within a particular module or course. It is important that this is not just done across one module but across common modules that students in a course or year of study are undertaking, as if this coordination does not happen then students will not feel the benefit of any staggering.
  • When any changes need to be made to assessment format or timing, make sure that students are given ample notice and that these changes will not have a detrimental impact on performance. This is particularly important when considering student groups such as mature students and student parents or carers. 
  • Provide accurate, consistent and up-to-date information regarding assessment timing and deadlines across all relevant platforms, including any module handbooks, on Moodle and via email.

Assessment Criteria

Students raised concerns on not receiving sufficiently clear information on criteria for assessments. There were numerous examples of confusing and even contradictory guidelines on what is required to do well within a particular assessment, with ambiguous mark-schemes causing significant confusion. Students also reported discrepancies between the amount of work required for a form of assessment within a module and the weight this assessment carries within the module as a whole, as well as contradictions between information passed on verbally on assessment criteria and what is available via email or Moodle. 

As with assessment timing above, most of the issues within this area pre-date Covid-19, however some students did report confusion in meetings since March 2020 as to what material was going to be assessed, and regarding the required format or material within alternative assessments.

Students told us:

  • “Some students felt that the marking criteria for assignments is too broad and does not give sufficient indication of what is required”.
  • “Students found that there were contradictions between what the lecturer said during Q & A session in class about coursework and how it was marked. The feedback during the Q & A session did not reflect the instruction given”.
  • “Module Leader has advised students that active participation makes up 10% of the grade. However students are not quite sure what this means. Is just attending lectures enough? Subjective measure”.
  • “Sometimes there was a mismatch between how long it took to complete an assessment and how much weighting it carried, for example a 30% coursework taking substantively shorter time to complete than a 15% review”.
  • “Important information was communicated in lectures in response to questions as opposed to formally via Moodle where it was accessible to all students”.

Points for improvement:

  • Ensure that marking criteria is clear, objective and sufficiently focused, providing students with a clear indication of how to achieve success within a particular form of assessment.
  • Communication with students regarding what skills they are expected to demonstrate within a particular assessment, especially when this assessment is in a practical form.
  • Weight modules accurately by the amount of work required to prepare for and complete each piece of coursework or exam.
  • Where changes to assessment criteria are required, as has been commonplace during Covid-19, provide well-structured and thorough explanations on any form of assessment so that the assessment criteria are clear.

Promptness of Feedback

Many students reported delays in receiving feedback on their work or their assessments, and in some cases suggested that they had not received any feedback at all on work that they had submitted. Section 8.2 of the Academic Manual, which sets an expectation that students should receive feedback within one calendar month of the deadline for submission (including weekends and vacations), was often cited by students, who pointed out that this had not been met in their case.

Students were particularly frustrated when communication was not forthcoming with the department regarding timescales for receiving feedback, including letting students know when the expectation of one calendar month outlined above will not be met (which is also suggested in the Academic Manual). There was also frustration reported when the level of detail provided in the feedback was not commensurate with the amount of time taken for the feedback to be received. This issue was brought up consistently both before and after the disruption caused due to Covid-19, with students reporting anxiety during the long waits and not having the opportunity to understand areas of improvement in sufficient time before subsequent assessments.

Students told us:

  • “Students are awaiting feedback which they were told would be received before they started the next assessment”.
  • “Students felt they weren’t provided with enough feedback for online learning activities. For example, one student only got feedback for 1 out of 6 critiques given”.
  • “As none of the feedback will be returned before all coursework is submitted, it is more likely for someone to repeat the same mistakes”.
  • “A number of students have mentioned that the formal feedback to assignments should have been more timely. Alternative, a more realistic mark release date should have been communicated. Some students raised that although the admin team communicated estimated mark release date but this had been postponed more than once”.
  • “The feedback was brief in some cases and it was felt the time taken to give out the results was excessive”.

Points for improvement:

  • Ensure that as much feedback as possible on summative work is returned to students within the one calendar month timeframe set out in the Academic Manual.
  • Where this turnaround is not possible, keep students in the loop regarding updated and realistic timeframes via email or Moodle. In addition, make sure that students are aware that they can bring this matter to the attention of the Departmental Tutor or Head of Department, as outlined in the Academic Manual.
  • Make sure that the level of detail within any feedback received is proportionate to the time students have had to wait to receive feedback.
  • When formative work is submitted by students on a regular basis, make sure they receive feedback on a meaningful proportion of this work.   

Teaching Rooms

This issue, which is unsurprisingly made up almost entirely of feedback received from before most work moved off-campus due to Covid-19, has now been raised in the last four versions of this report. As noted in these previous versions, many of the issues students raise with regards to their teaching rooms relate to the room size, with students regularly reporting being unable to fit the entire class in the room provided, let alone for everybody to be comfortable whilst teaching is taking place. This had a consistent effect on students’ ability to learn within these environments, particularly when their ability to take notes was compromised because the size of the allocated room was unsuitable.

Students also reported other issues with rooms, with many of these focused on temperature, particularly with lecture halls, teaching rooms or studios that are too cold. Other issues with rooms, such as poor-quality Wi-Fi, technical problems, and lighting issues, were also consistent themes within SSCC feedback, and it important to reflect on the effect these issues may have on different student groups, particularly disabled students.

Students told us:

  • “Some of the classes that they have our lectures in have a smaller capacity than the class size -students raise safety concerns”.
  • “There were not enough tables in teaching rooms. Students were in room B at the Wolfson Centre with rows of chairs and just 4 tables at the front, for writing notes by hand or using a laptop this makes it very difficult”.
  • “Facilities in Logan Hall are deemed inadequate, as there are no pull-out desks/tables for students to write on/take notes on during lectures”.
  • “The equipment in lecture theatres hasn’t kept pace with technology and there are not enough plugs – despite tutors brining extension cables etc to class”.
  • “Studio spaces are extremely cold during winter months, and students are resorting to buying their own personal heaters”.
  • “A main lecture was held at Student Central and students felt that this room was not suitable due to not being able to hear the lecturers”.
  • “The room was felt to be unsuitable – used as a thoroughfare for deliveries & refuse removal”.

Points for improvement:

  • Make sure that rooms allocated are big enough for the number of students who will be present, before the first lecture, seminar or class wherever possible. For this to take place, regular effective communication will be required between departmental staff and UCL centrally.
  • As mentioned in last year’s report, every effort should be made by lecturers and departmental staff to ensure rooms are appropriate for the seminars/lectures they will be running, and not rely on students raising it as an issue or complaint when the classes have started.
  • Where note-taking is required, allocate rooms with appropriate desks or tables, for either notes taken by-hand or on a laptop.
  • When technical problems occur, such as heating, lighting or Wi-Fi issues, make sure that these are reported and resolved by staff as quickly as possible.

Class Timetabling

Many students highlighted issues with their timetables, particularly with clashes for core modules. The timing of the release of the timetable of the academic year was also highlighted as an issue, with this often occurring too late for clashes to be remedied between core and optional modules. This is a particular issue when students only have a small selection of optional modules available to them. Issues of poor communication were also highlighted with regards to any changes in scheduled timetabling, with changes or cancellations either not communicated to students at all or announced at the last minute.

Students painted a clear picture on the consequences timetabling issues had on the effectiveness of their learning and wellbeing. This was particularly true of long days on campus filled with lectures, which were highlighted as draining and not conducive to effective engagement with the subject material. Concerns were also raised over timetabled activities on Wednesday afternoon, which is supposed to be kept free for extra-curricular activities.

The gap between different teaching and the effect this has on the student experience was also mentioned, although different structures to this were suggested in different situations; some students wanted gaps between seminars and lectures so that they could more effectively engage in the material and consider what they’d learned, whereas others doing more practical work wanted lectures and labs to be scheduled close together so that they could put into practise their learning whilst it was still fresh.

Students told us:

  • “Timetable changes are not communicated”.
  • “Students have core modules back-to-back with electives that are on different sites”.
  • “It was pointed out that there are some teaching sessions timetabled for Wednesday afternoons, which are usually kept free for extra-curricular activities”.
  • “Concerns were raised about the length of the day due to the scheduling of lectures on Wednesdays where there was a 9am start and a 7pm finish”.
  • “The few programming modules that students could pick clashed with each other”.
  • “Students advised there have been issues with module clashes. Mostly these have been sorted with students having spoken to module leads and arranged to pick up learning materials on Moodle, or lectures have been rearranged. This has arisen owing to clashes due to lots of optional modules. To have a timetable earlier from module leads would have helped identify the clashes earlier”.

Points for improvement:

  • Eliminate timetabling clashes for core modules, and minimise timetabling clashes with optional modules when there is only a small selection available to the cohort (meaning that a significant number of students are likely to experience a clash).
  • When timetabling changes are made, make sure that these are clearly communicated and timetables are updated across all platforms.
  • When considering how the timetable is structured, find gaps that are consistent with the needs of students within the individual course. Sometimes students want gaps in order to soak in material, whilst in other situations students want to be able to quickly practice what they have learnt in lectures in a practical setting. 
  • When structuring timetables for students, bear in mind the workload this would require within an individual day. Wherever possible, make sure that Wednesday afternoon is kept free for extra-curricular activities.

Category which has done particularly badly since Covid-19: Fees & funding

Since the delivery of teaching and assessment has been disrupted due to the pandemic, many students have expressed concerns about tuition fees. The rationale provided is generally the same, with many complaining about paying the same amount of money for an experience they see as radically different to what they expected, and the online delivery of teaching provided is seen as insufficient in many cases, particularly when planned activities such as practical work or field trips had to be cancelled.

There were also increased concerns around students’ ability to continue to fund their studies during the pandemic, often due to the impact of lost earnings from part-time work. Many students were aware of the UCL Student Funding Office and some of the funds that were available to them during this period, however they often reported negative experiences, either due to delays in communication or inconsistencies with how the funds were applied.

Students told us:

  • “Many students complained about the fees as many projects are now not happening and fees are mainly to cover projects. According to the recent email from the Vice-Provost students ‘should not expect any refund if you are receiving adequate online learning and support’. However, MRes students are not receiving any online learning (due to the lab-based nature of our course), while also not having access to facilities. Many students feel like the extraordinary circumstances require specific review in terms of what they are getting compared to the fees they have paid”.
  • “An international student had raised the issue of whether student fees would be reduced if face-to-face teaching does not happen going forward.  The reason the student left their country to come and study in the UK was, in part, to experience the face-to-face community and to use the library etc.”.
  • “A request was made for a portion of the tuition fee to be refunded due to the fact that the field trips did not take place. The students would like clarity on what costs have been incurred and for any monies to be returned due to cancelled flights and accommodation”.
  • “The rep reported that there is concern amongst some self-funded students about continuing to fund their studies due to the impact of Covid-19”.
  • “Feedback from the MSc student representatives on the UCL Learning Opportunities Fund was that the process used to approve the funding seemed fairly random, as across the cohort there were variations on the funds received and the number of applications that were successful. It was stated that the chances of success depended on what students put in their application which seemed rather unjust. Several students have been upset by the whole process as there was no clarity or justification on why certain applications were not approved”.

Points for improvement:

  • Provide students with concrete examples and explanations of how the academic experience they receive, particularly with regards to teaching, has been consistently at the level they would have expected in normal circumstances. If this has not been the case then fee refunds should be considered, or steps should at least be taken so that missed opportunities can be made up for during the remainder of the course (as outlined in the recommendations).

Category which has done particularly badly since Covid-19: Communication

The issue of communication was also consistently discussed before the impact of Covid-19 was felt, however it has been highlighted more frequently in meetings since March 2020. This mainly centred around students not feeling informed about changes during this period and initial communications being chaotic, with this being suggested as an issue both at course level and across UCL as a whole.

Some students reported gaps or inconsistencies between information they were receiving from their department and communications at an institutional level, with many complaining about a lack of responsiveness from their department during this period, even to acknowledge delays whilst awaiting new information. It is worth bearing in mind that the issues raised cover the time following the immediate reaction to the pandemic, and do not include comments on student views on communication during the 2020-21 academic year.

Students told us:

  • “The representative reported that before the Covid-19 restrictions the Institute was not regularly updating students with information on research progress or research undertaken by students. Since the restrictions there is less information”.
  • “Some students felt the pandemic led to some students feeling uninformed of changes and news on campus”.
  • “In the handbook there was an issue with coursework submission dates.  Some dates were changed but because the information is in several different places, not all of them were updated so there was some inconsistency”. 
  • “There had been concerns about a gap between central information and Faculty communications”.
  • “Communications could have been better, even to report that decisions had been delayed.  Some module leaders were better at communicating than others.  It was agreed that a weekly email to students would be helpful”. 

Points for improvement:

  • Provide clear, concise and consistent information to students on changes related to Covid-19 as soon as this information is available. Where information is delayed or not yet available, or when changes are likely but their precise nature has not yet been determined, keep students in the loop wherever possible.

Recommendation 1: UCL Experience

From the findings of this report, particularly in relation to issues raised since the pandemic, it is clear that for many students the UCL experience has not lived up to what they expected. Feedback both before and after disruption due to Covid-19 has shone a light on what students value, and what cannot be replaced. For many if not most students the 2019-20 academic year is full of missed opportunities a normal UCL experience would have provided, and whilst the move to online teaching was a necessary one, it is important to remember what an isolating experience this can be for students.

With this in mind, the institution needs to make sure that the UCL experience remains worth the time and money students invest in it, and that it ensures that missed or lost opportunities can be accounted for. We recommend that UCL should take the following steps:

  1. Move back to in-person teaching and assessment as soon as it is safe to do so.
  2. Look at how missed opportunities on campus in 2020, such as labs, studios and field trips, can be made up for, with an action plan for how the institution will address these lost experiences. It is important to ensure that this covers all levels of study, including the Postgraduate Research Student experience.
  3. Make sure that the expectations for online courses both during and after the impact of Covid-19, including fee levels, is clear and reflects the lack of in-person experience. Any best practice gathered from online learning this year should be harnessed in future distance learning courses, helping to ensure that they are fit for purpose.
  4. Continue to invest in departmental societies. These societies help strengthen student communities around subject disciplines, supporting academic discourse and inquiry beyond the curriculum to make connections across their subject, with alumni, the world of work and other communities.

Recommendation 2: Assessment Preparation

As highlighted throughout this report, students have reported issues with various elements of assessment, from the timing of this assessment to the promptness of feedback received. The issue of assessment is likely to become even more challenging in future years, given that many first and second year students, as well as future cohorts, will have less exam experience than previous cohorts due to cancellations because of Covid-19. We therefore believe it is necessary for UCL to take effective action now to improve the assessment landscape at the institution, including two recommendations made in 2019:

  1. Investigate the integration of assessment criteria for modules into the Online Module Catalogue to ensure that students have a clear and accessible route in determining the definitive criteria of which they will be assessed.
  2. Integrate the review of learning outcomes and assessment criteria into the approval process for modules and programmes, so that the linkage between learning outcomes and assessment criteria is clear and appropriate.

Other recommendations in this area include:

  1. Coordinate assessment timing with common modules to minimise the clustering of assessment deadlines for students.
  2. Cascade the recently adopted guidelines for ensuring programme level consistency for summative assessment load, to ensure that students know what to expect and feel their assessment load is fair and proportionate.
  3. Provide sufficient support on preparation for exams for first and second year students, as well as future cohorts, who have missed out on previous experience of this in school and at UCL because of cancellations due to Covid-19. This many include rebalancing the formative and summative assessments to allow for more opportunities for feedback on assessment performance.