Below, we talk to Andy Dixon about the ways in which University of Chichester have used the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES). Andy’s responsibilities include overseeing research degree programmes, chairing the Research Degrees Group and leading the University-level development of, and support for, research degree programmes.
Motivations for participating in HEA Surveys
The desire to gain research degree awarding powers led to the University of Chichester participating in PRES. Andy comments: “we used to run our own internal survey which had the advantage of being entirely under our own control so that we could choose questions and timing. However, we wanted to build more externality into our processes, not least because we were aiming for submitting to Research Degree Awarding Powers. The PRES gave us that opportunity - a nationally respected system with benchmarking.“ The university were successful in their application, being awarded research degree awarding powers in 2014.
Across the institution, Chichester have managed to achieve good response rates for PRES, with 54% of eligible students responding in 2015. The use of PRES as a tool with which to understand the student experience is just one part of an institutional culture of listening to student feedback, as Andy explains: “We have a strong culture of listening to the student voice in our institution evidenced by consistently high NSS scores. In the past we have held feedback sessions with our students to further explore their PRES responses. We have PhD student representation on the Research Committee and have just added a student member to our Research Degrees Group.”
What have the findings of the survey highlighted?
Participating in PRES has enabled Chichester to understand their students’ experiences in context of the sector, through benchmarking reports which shed light on how they compare to other aggregated groups of institutions. Andy says that there are a number of key areas which the survey has shed light on: “The survey highlighted how satisfied students were with supervision and overall satisfaction. We generally are in the top or second quartile for the different areas.
“The main issue that the survey identified was around research culture, which is one of the weaker areas for HEIs across the sector. We've struggled particularly on two items:
- ‘I have frequent opportunities to discuss my research with other research students’ and
- ‘The research ambience in my department or faculty stimulates my work’.
We additionally get quite a lot of neutral responses on these two items.“
What has the impact of participating in the survey been?
Participating in PRES has meant that Chichester have greater understanding of the ways in which the student experience could be improved. The survey results have led to conversations around the postgraduate research student experience within the university, and at the Consortium for Research Excellence, Support and Training [CREST]. These discussions have led to a number of developments within the institution, as Andy elaborates: “we can't and don't rest on our laurels. We made changes to our central training programme - clustering events around induction. We introduced PGR Day especially for PGRs. We encouraged individual research areas, which might be individual departments or groups of cognate disciplines across departments, to put more on for the students. The areas rose to the challenge and we have a wide range of different activities in which students can engage including research cafés, methodology masterclasses, research days, and seminar programmes.” In these ways the university has been proactive in making changes, and enhancing provision based on insight gained through the surveys.
The University of Chichester’s participation in PRES has provided them with a tool with which to build externality into internal processes, enabling a better understanding of their own provision compared to others through their inclusion in national benchmarking. The university has made some active changes to their provision since PRES highlighted an issue around research culture. Through doing so the experiences of postgraduate researchers has been explored and developed.
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