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Building on the work of our previous reports, this annual report on trends in student feedback draws on analysis from 190 different sets of Student Staff Consultative Committee (SSCC) minutes, almost all of which took place in 2020-21. This year’s edition is able to provide a comprehensive analysis of student feedback on education throughout this academic year. Coronavirus has continued to disrupt teaching and learning throughout UCL, moving the vast majority of activity online.

This report has continued to use our qualitative coding system, providing a rigorous statistical basis for the choice of topics and allowing for effective comparison with previous iterations of this report. For each set of SSCC minutes we receive, 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. 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 a year which has been as disruptive as this, listening to what students are saying and acting on this information is crucial as it has ever been. We hope that this report is useful in painting a picture of student opinion on the academic experience across the whole of UCL during this turbulent time, complimenting the individual feedback mechanisms that take place already at programme, department and faculty level.

Ayman Benmati
Education Officer 2020-21

In the Student Priorities for Education Report 2020, nine different recommendations were made across two main areas; UCL Experience and Assessment Preparation. We are grateful for the updates UCL have provided and the work they have undertaken to act upon these recommendations. We hope that the feedback and suggestions from last year’s report continue to drive change across the institution, particularly as many of these recommendations are still relevant to the feedback we have received this year. The table below represents an update on the progress of these recommendations as of May 2021.  

Recommendation

Status

Update

UCL Experience    

a. Move back to in-person teaching and assessment as soon as it is safe to do so.

In progress

UCL reported that, as the UCL campus is now open, those who are able can now study there. Teaching (with some exceptions) is currently being delivered fully online, however UCL have adopted evidence-based social distancing rules and extensive health and safety interventions to allow some facilities such as the library and study spaces to remain open. 

Next academic year (2021-22), UCL will be open to students with small group teaching taking place. Other face-to-face interactive opportunities will also be prioritised. Larger group teaching will take place online.

b. 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.

Complete

UCL reported that wherever possible, student laboratory work that is an essential part of the curriculum has continued. Where it could not be accommodated or is not essential, suitable alternative work online was/will be offered. 

UCL have sent out lab kits, clinical skills kits, visualisers, and graphics tablets to support teaching that involves writing, drafting and drawing. Virtual exhibitions have been created to showcase student work and virtual fieldtrips have been developed.

UCL stated that many of the activities outside of academic programmes have continued to allow students to continue to access important activities such as careers, innovation and enterprise, alumni mentoring and volunteering events, with many of the activities achieving exceptional levels of engagement. 

Between lockdowns, those on exempt courses were able to return to campus and UCL has done everything they can within the limits of the law to get students safely on campus where required.

c. 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.

In progress

A no detriment package was developed in collaboration with the Students’ Union for 2019-20 and revised for 2020-21, to guarantee that all core teaching covered everything you need to learn to complete a module successfully. The package aimed to support all students and make sure that wherever possible barriers to learning have been removed or minimised. 

UCL reported that they continue to collate data and draw insight from our well-established student voice channels, including institutional surveys, focus groups, Unitu platform (now in use in 43 departments) and SSCC analysis, as well as the collation of staff perspectives on what has worked well through case studies and committees. This will make sure that they have a good understanding of how the student experience has been impacted by the pandemic and what positive elements of the approach to learning we can retain or evolve. 

d. 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.

In progress

UCL stated that they recognise the importance of departmental societies and the vital role they can play in helping students connect through their discipline. They have committed to gathering examples of best practice which demonstrate the ways in which departments can support academic student societies and how they collaborate, in order to advocate for this approach more widely at UCL. Students’ Union UCL has also received resource to help increase support for departmental societies.

Assessment Preparation    

a. 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.

Yet to begin

This is technically possible and something UCL would like to see.  During the Covid response period, attention has had to focus on ensuring that changes to what is being delivered and how it is being assessed are captured to provide accurate information, rather than on enhancing the detail of the content. UCL plans to set up a Governance Board for the Module Catalogue which will help to determine future policy and student representation on this board will be important.

b. 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.

In progress

According to UCL, learning outcomes and assessment criteria are required as part of the approval process for modules and programmes. Support is available through the Arena Centre to help programme and module teams, and a series of Programme Design workshops are now offered prior to approval. This has been encapsulated in changes to Chapter 7 of the Academic Manual for next academic year, requiring engagement with the Arena Centre for all new programmes and guiding staff on programme design.  Faculties are responsible for the approval of new modules and amendments not submitted as part of a programme-wide proposal, and UCL will work with Faculty Education Teams to ensure that this is done consistently.

UCL have also reported that discussions are to look at creating a holistic approach and chronology for offering the Programme Design and Arena Blended Curriculum (ABC) Module design so that programmes are better designed prior to PMAP. In addition, Arena will provide guidelines for writing outcomes at different levels and integrate these into Arena Fellowship sessions.

c. Coordinate assessment timing with common modules to minimise the clustering of assessment deadlines for students.

In progress

UCL have reported that they were open to receiving a visualisation of the assessment across a programme. New programmes that engage with the programme design workshop are encouraged to view and use visualisations. Work has also begun to build this into the system that facilitates the programme approval process. UCL hopes that in time this may be further developed and made available to students as well as to staff. In addition, the Arena Centre already delivers a workshop entitled “designing assessment across a programme”, with this receiving 70 signups for a session in May 2021. 

d. 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.

In progress

UCL have provided an update that this continues to be discussed with Faculties meeting. The guidelines have been cascaded to faculties and departments.  It will also be monitored by the newly formed AssessmentUCL Academic Steering Group. 

e. 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. 

In progress

UCL have stated that some programmes are making use of visualisations which has already made this connection, and reduced assessment volume in favour of more continuous assessment. They added that the assessment load model also contains principles for adopting gateway formative assessment, and that patterns have been written but not yet published.

Teaching Delivery

Teaching delivery received by far 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.

This year, students expressed their appreciation for engaging teaching delivery by approachable lecturers more than ever, with this playing a huge factor in their ability to adapt to online learning. Innovation in teaching delivery methods through the online medium, such as using video content and smaller breakout rooms, also received praise. Students were aware of the challenges teaching staff faced in delivering their material online and did not expect this to be delivered perfectly immediately, instead praising staff who were able to adapt quickly once potential improvements had been noted.

Students told us:

“Engaging lectures did well to compensate for the challenges of virtual learning.”

“Students praised the detailed structure of the delivery of content for this module.”

 “Students like the structure of watching videos and follow up Q&As.”

“Being invited by the seminar leader to submit questions in advance is extremely helpful.”

“Breakout rooms were used well and in different ways, and the live lectures and notes complement each other well.”

Points of good practice:

  • Regardless of whether lectures are being delivered in a synchronous or asynchronous manner, students appreciate the opportunity to submit questions, whether this is done online or via a separate Q & A session. This helps to ensure that relevant concepts are understood and that nothing has been missed can be worked through, as well as giving students the chance to harness the teacher’s expertise. 
  • Whether lectures are recorded or delivered live, students appreciated when they were provided with everything they needed to ensure that they understood the concepts being discussed and were not adversely affected by this taking place online. Examples given by students as to how their lecturers did this include breaking down recordings into shorter videos and providing accompanying text files to go alongside recorded lectures.
  • Building in collaborative teaching methods even as delivery has moved online, such as breakout rooms in seminars, live polls during lectures and weekly quizzes.

Student Voice

Student voice is an issue that is consistently raised in a positive light by students, and is now featuring for the third consecutive year. Students were pleased when they felt that their voices were being heard through their reps and within SSCC meetings as well as through direct feedback with receptive staff, with some students even reporting that this had reduced their feelings of isolation this year. Students reported their encouragement when feedback listened to was acted upon in a timely manner, with particular appreciation shown this year when feedback was taken on board regarding assessment structure and deadlines.

Students told us:

“It was also noted that our current research methods training mirrors very closely some of students’ suggestions and that it is mapped and accredited against ESRC’s research training framework.”

“A lot of first year matters brought up by the department’s survey which was sent out a couple of weeks had been addressed already.”

“The Year 2 Student Reps and the wider year group were grateful for the interventions that had been made as a result and felt listened to by the department.”

“We really appreciate the open discussion culture and the transparency and feel that our feedback matters and acted upon.”

“Unitu has provided an effective channel of communication between lecturers and students.”

Points of good practice:

  • Students appreciated feedback being acted upon in a timely manner, especially given that the upheaval in teaching and assessment this year has understandably been challenging for both staff and students. Where possible, implement feedback quickly, and conduct a quick check-in whilst modules are still going before deadlines and assessment periods so that any small changes can be implemented in time to impact the student experience in year.
  • Moving SSCC meetings and other feedback gathering online has led to both new challenges and new opportunities for gathering student opinion this year. For Unitu, where engagement and satisfaction levels can vary significantly depending on the department using the platform, make sure that students are aware of its existence and its importance, and that the necessary staff are responding to queries.
  • When gathering feedback from your cohort, it is important to remember that other stakeholders across UCL may also be requesting their input, and that students may be less willing to spend time giving their constructive opinion because of ‘survey fatigue’, feeling like their views are being sought without a wider purpose. Where a new survey is required, ensure that its purpose is clear and communicated to students. Once results have been received, close the feedback loop by letting students know what the findings were, and work in partnership with students, and particularly reps, to co-create solutions and find a way forward on any outstanding issues.  

Careers & Personal Development

Despite the disruption that the pandemic has caused, students were still appreciative of receiving support with their careers and personal development, helping them to plan for their careers after graduation and develop the skills they would need in their future professional endeavours. Students praised courses and departments that prioritised careers and personal development by bringing in external speakers or maintaining relationships with alumni from the course. In addition, students praised UCL Careers for the opportunities they provided, both in terms of their communications and the opportunities they highlight.

Students told us:

“Students enjoyed Having some speakers from big corporations like Unilever, P&G or banking, where L&D and Human Capital practice is very developed to create more career opportunities for the cohort.”

“Some students have had more than one meeting with a mentor already, replacing the normal internship opportunities which are missed in lockdown.”

“Alumni videos provided inspiration, even where students remain unsure about their own career paths.”

“It was useful to sign up for weekly job alerts from UCL Careers for information about the types of career opportunities being offered to graduates.”

Points of good practice:

  • Provide students with the opportunity to attend careers events within the department outside of their existing teaching, such as networking events, external speakers and skills development workshops. When putting on such events, make sure that they are well-publicised and at a time during the term when the majority students can attend, both when this event is held virtually or in-person.  
  • Make use of any links with alumni that the course or department has, as students can form meaningful connections with them and seek their advice on the skills they need for their chosen careers, as well as graduate life.
  • Ensure that students are aware of events and activities that are taking place with UCL Careers, especially when these events or communications may be particularly relevant to your cohort.

Practical and Academic Personal Support

During a period when in-person contact with staff has been impossible for most students, many SSCC meetings saw reps praise staff who provided one-to-one support to their academic performance outside of traditional timetabled hours. Staff who were open to meeting online with students individually, either to provide feedback or to answer any questions, received particular praise, and students were appreciative of staff who were willing to help them not only with academic content but also with personal development, such as advice on references, applications or further study. 

Students told us:

“The module leader has also offered extra sessions and one-to-one meetings for feedback, which have been seen as extremely helpful.”

“It was noted that staff online office hours are very useful in allowing student engagement and would remain so when more face-to-face teaching became the norm.”

“Shy students that might normally not have felt able to approach their Personal Tutor to request a reference for a Masters degree application had now developed a good working relationship with them due to having them as their Individual Project Supervisor.”

“Personal Tutor meetings have been great. Members pick topics/news to discuss at the meetings which allows for more free-thinking and exchange of ideas. It gives students some freedom to explore and discuss topics that they feel passionately about.”

Points of good practice:

  • Remain open to following up with students individually, either in scheduled office hours or in a separate session with a student at a mutually agreed time. This is good practice regardless of whether in-person teaching or meetings can take place.
  • When working with a large cohort within a particular module, consider using regular drop-in sessions (which can take place both in-person and online), enabling students to follow up individually on particular issues and providing students who are more shy, or those who feel uncomfortable contributing in a large group, a space to ask questions.
  • When meeting with students, especially as their Personal Tutor, encourage students to follow up on any concerns, including any practical help or support they may seek regarding references or applications.

Programme or Module Content

In general, students felt that the workload of their programmes was much higher than expected throughout this academic year, and whilst it is understandable that access to technical and specialist equipment in labs and workshops was limited this year students had concerns regarding the lack of practical skills they had acquired. Students have also found the content of some modules difficult to digest and too abstract due to a lack of variety in learning resources and teaching methods, and some students reported struggling with the content of some modules because they felt that they needed to do an excessive amount of preparation before lectures or seminars, and struggled to manage their time and digest learning materials at their own pace.

Some students also reported an imbalance in the content of some modules and an incoherent distribution of workload throughout. There were reports of some modules which felt inaccessible from the start because the content was too advanced, or that it assumed knowledge which students did not have. Finally, some students referred to a lack of clarity regarding how the different modules tied in with each other and the wider programme.

Students told us:

“Many students do not have programming experience and feel like they are falling behind.”

“Lecturers assume all students have the same level of learning.”

“Students would appreciate more lab experiences or possibly a module just for lab skills from the department.”

“Students have found the workload to be high, such that they are under excessive amounts of stress at times.”

“Students were confused about how the course tied in with their programmes.”

Points for improvement:

  • Where prior knowledge is required before undertaking a certain module beyond what may be expected at that stage of study, include these pre-requisites in the module catalogue, so that students are aware of the expectations for the module and the skills or knowledge they may need.
  • Make sure that students are aware of how the module content fits in with the wider programme, highlighting any necessary or interesting links to help them contextualise the new knowledge they are developing.
  • Should online teaching delivery be required in future, review module workload to consider how this translates to online learning and make any adjustments necessary.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Several reports from students describe a lack of equality, diversity and inclusion in their curriculum, as well as how teaching and social activities have taken place this year. Some of these concerns are around the online learning environment, whilst others are related to the perceived “Euro-centric” content of some courses and the lack of safe spaces for BAME and LGBT+ students. Students also mentioned that they do not know how to report discrimination or potential racism, and are not aware of specific initiatives led by UCL to tackle these problems.

International students who did not move to London have struggled with various issues this year dealing with isolation and the difficulties of working from different time zones. In addition, many international students and students of faith have been affected by important academic events such as exams and induction happening during cultural celebrations. Disabled students have also highlighted various issues with their experience this year, such as information only being provided verbally during lectures meaning that they may miss important information, or difficulties navigating disability support services. This has been compounded by the lack of access to library resources, making the situation particularly challenging for their learning.

Students who have caring responsibilities or other commitments outside of their studies have also highlighted how they have struggled to study alongside other responsibilities because of various factors, such as unpredictable workloads and changes in timetables. This is particularly important as alternative care or work arrangements require more notice than is currently possible to provide given the circumstances. The online format seems to have also increased feelings of alienation among some students, with reports from female students and non-native English speakers engaging less in classes and feeling less included.

Students told us:

“The first day of induction week fell on Yom Kippur, which prevented Jewish students from engaging with activities. This is very bad timing and would be reported as a UCL-wide issue.”

“Female students seem to be finding it harder and are less included with online learning.”

“It was difficult to navigate the disability provision.”

“Black people do not always feel like they can use their voice and say what they want to say in a group of non-black faces because it doesn’t feel safe.”

“Students don’t know where to report potential and actual racial discrimination.”

“The curriculum is not inclusive with too many white male authors. These need to be taught in an intersectional way, it’s not just about adding black authors, but about making the curriculum make diverse and inclusive within existing modules.”

“Some students, for example, need everything to be written down or they could miss some of the information provided.”

Points for improvement:

  • Provide transparency and timely communications regarding timetable changes, so that students with other commitments such as caring responsibilities can plan accordingly.
  • Make sure that all students are aware of the mechanisms available for reporting discrimination of any kind, and that students from marginalised groups are not shut out of discussions or made to feel comfortable in either in-person or online activity.
  • Ensure that curricula are inclusive and centred around a diverse range of perspectives and voices, with materials such as reading lists fully accessible and decolonised.

Communication

As was picked up in last year’s report, communication has been described as particularly challenging over the past academic year and since March 2020. Students with questions or in need of clarification have sometimes struggled to find the right information, with communication regarding timetables or assessments sometimes missed by students due to the large volume of emails they receive. In some departments, students have felt that the turnaround time of communications has been slow, with some academic staff unresponsive to direct communication with students and often unable to find their contact details or office hours.

Communication issues also caused students stress before enrolling and around module selection, with module information such as the module timetable and prerequisites not available in a timely and accessible manner. Students reported that changes to module allocations, assessments, and timetables were not communicated with sufficient notice. The methods used to communicate this information were sometimes not the most effective or appropriate, with students reporting missing important information due to several different channels being used and them not knowing where new information had been added. Finally, students highlighted some instances of contradictory information coming from UCL channels compared to their own departments, especially in relation to areas such as lab work and Covid-19.

Students told us:

“Office hours for seminar leaders are hard to find and would be helpful if these were more clearly displayed.”

“The class time was confirmed only a few hours before their first lesson and halfway through term workshops were rescheduled with short notice of revised times.”

“Instructions can be easily missed due to multiple platforms of communication.”

“Changes to synchronous teaching are poorly communicated to students and often late.”

“Students were experiencing a great deal of stress as a result of a perceived lack of clear of information regarding the module and its assessments.”

Points for improvement:

  • When communicating changes to timetabling or assessments, make sure that communication is clear and consistent across the various channels used, minimising the possibility for confusion to be caused or for information to be missed.
  • Update students regarding any changes they need to be aware of as soon as the information is available. When information is not yet available, or may be subject to change, keep students in the loop wherever possible.
  • When students are undertaking module selection, ensure that the information they require is available when they are making their selections, and that staff are on hand to assist them with any queries they may have.

Assessment Quality/ Style

Students across the university have reported concerns about the way in which assessments have been adapted to the online learning format. They highlighted issues regarding the suitability of some of these assignments, with potential problems such as a lack of access to specialist equipment and software, or the possibility of technical issues or interruptions at home. Concerns regarding technical issues extended to the difficulty in producing high-quality material for submission as a group, with issues such as the difficulty in sharing files or editing videos, and some students reported unrealistic timescales for the completion of complex tasks. Data collection has also been difficult for students, which has had a major impact on some research projects. In general students perceive group work to be much harder to accomplish whilst studying remotely.

Students also reported concerns regarding the weighting of assessments, feeling that certain assignments being worth the entire module mark was too risky considering the circumstances. Some other students expressed dissatisfaction regarding the need to complete assessments without access to the relevant facilities, with their main preoccupation being that the standard of their work will be lower and not representative of their abilities because they are lacking access to crucial resources and opportunities.

Students told us:

“Student representatives raised concerns about timed examinations where exam conditions cannot be replicated in the home environment.”

“Having your module mark based on one assignment is very stressful.”

“The Covid situation has largely impacted our master thesis and a big problem for our cohort has been the lack of opportunities to generate data.”

“Year 1 students had found group work particularly difficult and had raised concerns about the proportion of their grades allocated to it.”

Points for improvement:

  • Make sure that if students are sitting examinations away from campus in future, that guidelines and expectations for these are suitable for the assignments at hand, accommodating for any equipment or software that students may not have access to remotely, as well as allowing for the possibility of technical issues or interruptions.
  • When assessments require group work, provide clear advice and guidelines on how this can best be accomplished, considering potential difficulties such as file sharing and video editing that this medium of assessment may cause when not all activity is on campus or in-person.

Pastoral Support & Wellbeing

This year students have unsurprisingly reported feelings of isolation due to a lack of social contact with other classmates. This was particularly the case for students living outside London, although regardless of location students have reported feeling cut off from their peers. In addition, the disruption caused by the pandemic has led to students stating that they feel burnt out, stressed, and demotivated. In addition to their classmates, students also explained that they felt disconnected from the university community and what other students are doing, which was highlighted as particularly problematic by research students who are more often working alone. There is a sense that more support was offered in term 1 than in term 2.

One of the reasons for students feeling overwhelmed was the long periods of screen time, which many said was compounded by the lack of suitable study spaces at home (which particularly affects disadvantaged students with less resource), and working from different time zones. Students expressed concern that this would influence their marks and reported their confusion with the extenuating circumstances policy currently operating at UCL. For students whose modules require access to specialist facilities or which include more practical activities such as field work, lab work or placements, the lack of clarity regarding whether these would take place has been challenging, leaving students concerned about the skills that they are not acquiring because of the pandemic.

Students told us:

“It is stressful studying in a dormitory for long periods and, often working alone, students spend half their time dealing with anxiety and loneliness.”

“When working on their own, students are not sure what is normal, what is the right amount to do in a day etc. They would appreciate some reassurance that they are doing fine and they’re doing a similar amount to other people.”

“Students have not had the support network of friends, units, and studios that they would normally. Some students are severely isolated and don’t feel that they are being cared for by the course and feel unable to come forward and talk to anyone. Outreach needs to be improved.”

“Classmates have reported issues with stress, and people want to be social outside of class but are battling screen fatigue.”

Points for improvement:

  • Provide clear and reasonable expectations for how much work should be required during various parts of teaching delivery, as this will provide reasonable expectations for students and reduce their stress by reassuring them that they are doing enough work.
  • As activity returns to campus, ensure that social and group activities are prioritised so that students can get to know their cohorts and build or rebuild collaborative relationships that may not have been possible during the pandemic.
  • Ensure that all students know what support services are available to them from the start of the academic year, and that if teaching has to pivot online at any point then factors such as burnout, screen fatigue and potential issues with study space are considered.

Timing of Assessment

As mentioned in previous reports, students highlighted issues with how their assessments were staggered and scheduled throughout the academic year. Students reported concerns with how deadlines for different assignments overlapped or clustered around specific times of the year, such as immediately after the winter break or during reading weeks. Students stated that the clustering of deadlines during or immediately after breaks made them feel overwhelmed, and meant that if they had questions or concerns about the assignment they could not communicate as easily with staff during the break. Students also reported instances when deadlines were set for the same day as other important course activity, such as live lectures.

Students also reported difficulties with the timeframes they had to complete assignments after the task was set. Some of these concerns were directly related to delays in data collection or lab work due to Covid-19, however some students informed staff that they felt unable to start assignments until very close to the date when their assignment was due because the content needed to start the assignment was not taught until very close to the deadline. Other students reported that the opposite extreme had occurred, with assignments for modules taught in term 1 only assessed in term 3, making students anxious. Finally, some students identified that staff on their programme were not explicit about assignment deadlines, which was a major source of concern.

Students told us:

“The deadline was set very early after the Winter Closure Period. Tutors were not available to answer questions over the closure period when students needed the most help.”

“Students have to juggle multiple overlapping deadlines, therefore feel anxious and overworked.”

“Some of the content necessary for the coursework would not be taught until a week or so before the deadline, leaving students with little time to finish the work.”

“The deadlines dates keep changing and some modules have included non marked, but compulsory, deadlines in the middle of when there are currently a lot of deadlines.”

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 programme. It is important that this is not just done across one module but across common modules that students in a programme or year of study are undertaking, as if this coordination does not happen then students will not feel the benefit of any staggering.
  • Avoid clustering assessments immediately after breaks, so that students are not overwhelmed but also so that they have a point of contact for any queries they may have related to the assessment.
  • When setting assessment deadlines, consider when material that is covered in the assessment is being taught and make sure that students have a reasonable amount of time to absorb and digest the information whilst not becoming overwhelmed by other deadlines. For this area of improvement, an important balance needs to be struck between making sure that new, relevant material is not introduced too close to the deadline, but that the concepts considered are still fresh in students’ minds by the time the assessment takes place. 

Recommendation 1: Assessment and Feedback

As highlighted in previous reports, students have raised a number of areas of concern with regards to issues with various aspects of assessment, such as the timing of assessment as well as the quality and style of various assessments students undertake. We recognise the challenges that UCL face in delivering such assessments online, as well as in compensating for understandably disrupted teaching delivery. We believe that these recommendations help the institution to more accurately gauge students’ grasp of the material at hand, and ensure that the assessment process for students is as fair and accommodating as possible. 

We believe that these recommendations remain relevant both as assessments take place online and in the future, when in-person assessments will again be possible. We recommend that UCL continues its work on the following recommendations from the 2020 report.

a. Coordinate assessment timing with common modules to minimise the clustering of assessment deadlines for students.

b. Continue to cascade the guidelines for ensuring programme level consistency for summative assessment load, accelerating efforts to improve this consistency and ensure that students know what to expect and feel their assessment load is fair and proportionate.

c. Continue to investigate the integration of assessment criteria for modules into the Online Module Catalogue, including expectations around workload, to ensure that students have a clear and accessible route in determining the definitive criteria of which they will be assessed. 

New recommendations in this area include:

d. Ensure that the service standards for feedback on assessments is reinstated, with students receiving feedback within one month of the assessment deadline.

e. When assessment takes place online, allow individual faculties and departments discretion with regards to decisions on late submissions in these assessments, in the same manner that currently happens for coursework.

f. Review the effect that the changed assessment landscape has had over the last year, including the impact that the No Detriment Policy has had on eliminating the BAME awarding gap, the difficulty of exams and the clustering of online assessment, in order to inform a future digital learning strategy.

Recommendation 2: Student Support and Skills

From the findings of this report, as well as other Students’ Union UCL research conducted this year such as the 2021 Student Priorities for Wellbeing Report, it is clear that many UCL students are struggling with burnout, isolation and fatigue, with many requiring the use of extenuating circumstances this year but being met with confusion at how they are able to do so. In addition, many students are concerned about coming out of the pandemic with fewer skills than they would expect at this point, and require both academic and pastoral support moving forward.  

With this in mind, UCL needs to make sure that all students are receiving the support that they need as on-campus activity returns, and that students are able to regain the academic skills they have missed out on during learning which has taken place fully online. We recommend that UCL takes the following steps in order to help this process:  

a. Ensure that the new Student Advisors roles in faculties and academic staff regularly communicate with students and assess the support they need to make up for lost opportunities and truly succeed. 

b. Complete the current review of the extenuating circumstances procedure, ensuring that the process and guidelines are clear and supportive moving forward and that all cases from this academic year are resolved fairly and timely.

c. Ensure that all departments are working with the UCL Academic Communication Centre to enhance students’ discipline-specific writing and speaking skills, working to address any skills that students feel they are lacking as a result of the pandemic.   

d. Continue to monitor students who may have missed out on previous experiences of assessment or other academic skills as a result of the disruption caused by Covid-19 in both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years, providing further skills or formative assessment opportunities where required to help cover any shortfall.