It’s that time of year again. Not necessarily Keats’s ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’: there’s the first hint of a chill in the morning; the evenings are beginning to draw in. But it’s the start of a new academic year. I love it. I love the preparation and the busyness, the sense of potential, opportunity and possibility. Around the campus, the signs are there: the main entrance at the University’s city centre campus sports a daffodil-yellow display board of welcome; early registration has begun; and the campus begins to bloom back into vibrant life. Universities without students are simply not the same – it’s the students who give the buildings life, energy and purpose. It’s a truism, but they are why we are here.
At Hallam, we start the new academic year with a real spring in the step. One of the newer dates in the annual higher education cycle is the publication of the National Student Survey at the end of July. It’s one of the most important data sources we have in higher education: a national survey of final year students, providing quantitative and qualitative data on what they think of their course, of their learning resources, of their assessment and feedback. It’s a satisfaction survey, but every vice-chancellor I know pores over it and, triangulating it against other data, finds it an invaluable barometer of institutional health. We know that students across the sector are becoming more critical; although satisfaction rates remain very high at well over 80% – and which politician would not look enviously at satisfaction levels like that – they have been gently falling over the past three years. Against this background, Sheffield Hallam’s NSS performance has been strikingly good: up from 84% in 2016 to 85% in 2017 and now 86% in 2018 while the sector has declined overall by two percentage points. Overall, the University is now comfortably in the top 30 for overall student satisfaction, and within touching distance of the leading group in the sector. Digging into the Hallam data reveals that the improvement in overall satisfaction was driven by improvements on all but one of the core areas: a remarkable performance on consistency. We’ve shown that on teaching quality, on academic and student support, on responding to what students tell us, on learning resources we are performing exceptionally well. It’s a fabulous basis on which to begin the year.
The NSS results landed soon after the major annual student destinations survey – the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education. This was the last DLHE survey, which will be replaced in 2020 by the Graduate Outcomes survey – a different sort of survey, taken fifteen rather than six months after graduation. The 2018 DLHE survey again showed that we are making a real difference for our students, with a marked increase of three percentage points in the proportion of our students securing highly skilled employment. The University has – rightly – been focusing intensively on graduate employability, and will formally relaunch the careers and employability offer in the next few weeks. It is really gratifying to see hard work, consistent effort and intensive collaboration across the University bearing fruit.
Numbers matter, of course, but at the heart of what we do are individual students. Every day, scores of messages pass through my inbox. It’s a bit of an understatement to say that not all of those bear good news, but I did get an email last week which I particularly enjoyed. It was from the parent of an incoming first year student, and it said this: “My eldest daughter is starting…at SHU later this month and I just wanted to congratulate the University for the excellent experience she has had during the application and pre-registration process. From the brilliant open day to the many welcoming and informative letters and emails, it really has been outstanding. She has just texted me to say someone from SHU has phoned her this afternoon to check that everything is okay and ask whether she has any questions. Another example of the care and strong student-focus.
This has all really helped her prepare for the big change about to happen in her (and our!) life and she is thoroughly looking forward to joining”.
I can’t think of a better way to end a new academic year blog.