The UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology was established in 1950, merged with UCL in 1997, and is a key component of the Faculty of Brain Sciences at UCL. The institute has nearly 700 students.
Like most universities, the QS Institute of Neurology needed to address the challenge of collecting and dealing with student feedback more efficiently and transparently.
Closing the feedback loop
In particular, there was a need to improve the student representation system to make it more effective, to better use informal feedback and to close the feedback loop by demonstrating that student concerns are responded to. Education Manager at the UCL Institute of Neurology, David Blundred, wanted to have a better system to respond to student feedback:
“I felt that what we had been doing was not really working. What tended to happen was that students would send individual emails to myself or my colleagues, and then you’d reply to those, but there wasn’t a sense that perhaps a lot of people might have these same questions.”
Lack of transparency
Transparency was another relevant challenge they had. Pretty much based on individual emails, responding to student feedback was taking a lot of time and, at the same time, lack of transparency. The replies didn’t reach all students.
Since the main method was replying to student emails individually, “that didn’t seem a very good use of time. You’re replying individually to these people asking the same questions and not everyone is getting that answer.”
Find out about issues quickly
The QS Institute of Neurology needed to identify what is essential to students, what their key concerns are about and what areas of improvement they needed to take action on. They wanted to “get a better sense of how many people are worried about certain things or what is important to people.”
No formalised election process
David explained that before Unitu, they did not have a formal voting process in which course reps can be nominated, seconded and voted in.
In the academic year 2019-2020, with a focus on making and sustaining significant improvements for the following academic year, they decided to implement Unitu with all their 695 students. As explained by David, they felt Unitu was a good platform to support them in increasing transparency when collecting and acting on student feedback.
“The idea was to have a much more transparent platform in which to get student feedback.”
Unitu has helped them make the staff response much more transparent,
“[Unitu] is not only more efficient, but it’s much more transparent. Because I think the problem can be that if you’re just replying to a few students, people could not seeing that response”. On Unitu, “everyone can see everybody’s comments so the students can see other students’ comments and people can keep adding to it… what’s quite nice then is you can see a bit of a debate.”
Another solution they found userful on Unitu was running the rep elections on the platform. Previously, they had no formalised voting process. But now with Unitu, the process is accorded with more legitimacy.
“Prior to running the student rep elections with Unitu, [students] would just send us an email or talk about it during the induction week saying who wants to be a rep and you’d get a few people coming and saying “I’ll be the rep,” and so then that’s how you select them, so there was no voting process.”
The QS Institute of Neurology has seen a number of benefits:
Unitu has played a crucial role in giving the right opportunities to give feedback and improving satisfaction across the programmes at the QS Institute of Neurology.
“It’s a perfect platform because people can see everybody has the opportunity to post something, and then to see how you’re responding to their ideas, their criticisms, their concerns. “
Running elections on Unitu had a very positive impact as well. According to David Unitu helped them increasing legitimacy in the process.
The increased assumption of responsibility by course representatives could be demonstrated by the more active role they played in the feedback process. As David put it,
“What has been really nice… was to see the comments that the reps have written. They’ve been giving really good advice. They’ve said things that I think I would have said, and that made my job a lot easier.”
From the student representatives’ perspective, Unitu has been helpful in figuring out what students were thinking. As Kai Loh, a student representative on the MSc Clinical Neuroscience programme, mentioned that through Unitu, “people can actually voice out their thoughts.”
Overall, David thinks that using Unitu has made a huge difference from the individual emails they were using.
“Unitu has been very positive experience. And, I would highly recommend it. I think it’s a much better than the system that we were using, which is essentially just individual emails or people coming in. Of course, you are still going to get those, but I think it’s much better to be more transparent and open.”
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