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Old Educational Priorities

2014-15 

INDEX: 

1. Exam Feedback

2. Alternative Forms of Assessment

3. Mitigating Circumstances

4. Support the SOAS Language Centre

5. Diagnostic coursework for Post-graduate Taught Students

6. Postgraduate dissertation: changing framework and ensuring greater support

7. Improving Academic and Pastoral Support

8. BME Students' Attainment Gap

9. Improve support of academic staff

10. Greater representation and transparency within SOAS’ governance structures

 

 

Please feel free to comment on them in the below comment space, or send your thoughts, suggestions or concerns to ds60@soas.ac.uk

These Priorities were approved by the Student Body at the first Union General Meeting of the Term, scheduled for the 10th of October, 5pm, in the JCR

 

1. Exam Feedback

Concern:

Exams are not simple bench markers in a students’ journey, but an important part of the learning experience itself. The Students’ Union believes exam feedback to be a key learning-tool for students. Exam Feedback has been a SU priority since 2011. In the summer of 2013 an ‘Examination Feedback Pilot’ was tried out by the School, providing first year students of specific degrees with a general comment from the internal marker on the overall performance of the class. Subsequent consultation with the students involved in this pilot showed that students were seeking for personal feedback rather than a vague, general feedback.[1] Following the National Union of Students Charter on Assessment and Feedback, the Students’ Union believes that students should receive some form of personalized feedback on their exams, as these represent a fundamental part of their summative assessment.

Priority:

The Students’ Union suggests to implement a policy for consistent examination feedback, along with clarifying and raising awareness on the existing forms of exam feedback presently available to SOAS students. This will not only result in an improvement of the NSS results, still poor in the area of Assessment and Feedback, but will allow for an improvement in the overall student performance and student experience.[2]

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2. Alternative Forms of Assessment

Concern:

In most courses students believe that there is too much reliance on exams and long essays as the sole form of assessment and that the ratio of weighting between the two is imbalanced (too much weight on exams). In some specific departments, academics are using alternative forms of assessment in order to break from the rigid exams-essays duality, making courses more engaging and approachable. This stimulates not only students’ creativity, but critical skills too, which SOAS is well known for cherishing. We believe diversifying forms of assessment is vital to improving accessibility and inclusivity of learning and teaching, as different students have different strengths and abilities, so to privilege one form of assessment, such as exams, above another is to advantage some students over others, which is especially relevant for students with learning difficulties.

Priority:

·       The Students’ Union aims to work with Faculties and Departments in auditing all various forms of assessment currently used at SOAS and in other HE institutions and to identify the advantages and disadvantages of each form. This can help to identify and share good practice within the School and improves accessibility to education.

·       We believe that, besides developing alternative forms of assessment, departments should address the imbalance between exams and essay weighting, with exams being given a maximum weighting of 50% 

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3. Mitigating Circumstances

Concern:

In 2012-2013 the Students’ Union requested a review of the School’s mitigating circumstances policy in order to provide coherent School-wide regulations. Although this request was granted, there are some areas which remain problematic. We are aware of a number of cases in which students' mitigating circumstances claims have been denied because there are a number of important areas that are absent from the School's mitigating circumstances policy. Io some cases, the same mitigating circumstances were declined by some departments and accepted by others. Moreover, this year evidence provided by Student Advice and Wellbeing counselling service was not accepted as supportive evidence for mitigating circumstances. Neither Student Advice and Wellbeing, nor students, were informed that evidence from the counselling service would not be accepted in mitigating circumstances claims. This meant that there were students whose mitigating circumstances were not accepted in the year 2013-2014 because they had expected that Student Advice and Wellbeing documents qualified as evidence.

Priority:

·       The Students’ Union believes that the categories of qualification for mitigating circumstances should make special mention of disability and mental health, including chronic mental health conditions, anxiety, and of unforeseen circumstances or incidents that cause stress or trauma for the student.

·       To make sure that the mitigating circumstances policy is equally applied by all Departments and Faculties.

·       The Student Advice and Wellbeing counselling service is a professional service with qualified counsellors, whose opinions are as valid as that of a GP service. We believe that the opinions of Student Advice and Wellbeing counsellors should be accepted as evidence for mitigating circumstances claims.

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4. Support the SOAS Language Centre

Concern:

SOAS is famous worldwide to be one of the few Higher Education Institutions to be offering high-quality language degrees in a wide variety of languages. However, the School also used to provide more students with the opportunity of studying a language if not enrolled in a language degree. Today, the Language Centre is the main provider of Language Entitlement Programme (LEP) courses, which are currently offered free for a term to all SOAS undergraduate students who want to integrate their academic experience with the study of a language which they have no existing competence in. This educational provision is much liked by students, who could, therefore, expand their horizons by learning a language even if a language module is not directly part of their degree. However, fewer number of SOAS students are taking the LEP, particularly after the first free Term. Many have started taking courses in other HE Institutions which offer the same courses at lower prices. In the past few years, the Language Centre has gone through serious restructuring and financial cutbacks. According to the information provided by Ms Anne Campbell, Director of the Language Centre, who guided the Periodic Programme Review of the Centre in 2014, the Centre is self-funding and, therefore, focuses more on external students, which is still proving not to be sustainable.

Priority:

·       For the School to better subsidise the Language Centre and raise its profile within SOAS, so as to encourage students to study a language.

·       Give proper accreditation to the language entitlements, so as for students to improve their extra-curricular employability portfolio.

·       To push for the Language Centre to be able to provide more and longer courses to SOAS students, also for non-beginners.

·       To push for the Language Centre to gain the necessary expertise to be able to assign CEFR certificates of language competence in all languages studied at SOAS.

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5. Diagnostic coursework for Post-graduate Taught Students

Concern:

A high majority of PGT students receive their first coursework feedback after the Christmas break, half way through their degree. This means students do not have any benchmarks or feedback until January. This is neither useful nor acceptable considering that most postgraduate programs only last a year, and that a high amount of PGT international students come to SOAS with very different academic backgrounds.

Priority:

To implement a policy which offers all PGT students diagnostic coursework during the first term. This coursework should also be marked before the end of the first term.

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6. Postgraduate dissertation: changing framework and ensuring greater support

Concern:

As it currently stands, because of the cap on PGT dissertations, students are expected to get a distinction at their dissertation if they hope to get a distinction in their overall mark. With the little support and contact time given to students during their dissertation writing time however, students have to write their dissertation with very little support, only able to meet with their supervisors in the short period there is between the end of exams and the 15th of June (final deadline for them to meet), at a time where few students know already how to go about writing their dissertation. We believe this to be an accurate reason for the high levels of stress and anxiety PGT students report to have experienced at the end of their study time at SOAS.

Priority:

The School should consider lifting the dissertation cap for PGT Students, so as for them to be able to get a distinction also if such mark is not achieved at their dissertation. Alternatively, contact time between PGT students and their supervisors during the summer Term should be arranged personally between the student and the supervisor, with a minimum guarantee of e-mail correspondence between the two.

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7. Improving Academic and Pastoral Support

Concern:

With NSS scores continuing to drop in the Academic Support section, and in light of the current dispute between the School and some Fractional Teaching Staff, the Students’ Union is concerned about the amount of time students are actually able to get in touch with their tutors and get advice from academics. In regards to this, there is great confusion, on behalf of both students and staff, over what the role of the Personal Advisers actually should be.

Priority:

·       To improve the Personal Advisor (PA) system by better explaining to students and staff the ‘mentoring purpose’ of personal advisers. Also, it is crucial that the assignment of a PA to students is not made randomly, but instead follows guidelines which can make sure both the student and the academic understand the value and purpose of this service, for example by pairing students and PA’s according to a common discipline or regional focus.

·       To consider examples of best practice carried out in other departments which instead of conforming to the PA system, have supported students through the services provided one competent ‘welfare support’ staff member.

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8. BME Students' Attainment Gap

Concern

Black minority ethnic (BME) students' grades have on average been repeatedly lower compared to white students. The SOAS Equality and Diversity Report 2013 notes in part four that white undergraduate students were more likely than BME undergraduate students to have achieved a First, more likely to have achieved at least a 2:1, and less likely to have failed.

Priority

·       To disaggregate statistics further along different lines including, but not limited to gender and age, to understand which groups exactly are in need of increased support

·       To work with the school on strategies to understand and close the attainment gap 

·       To inform about support systems that students can access in order to pull up their grades

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9. Improve support of academic staff

Concern:

As suggested by point 1, 5, 6 and 7 , many of the Students’ Union priorities could increase academics’ workloads, fractional as well as full time academics. Due to cuts to staff’s pay across the higher education sector and increasing work being pushed onto fractional teaching staff, fractional staff are overstretched and under-supported. Hence, in order for this year’s educational priorities to be realized, the working and payment situation of the School’s fractional staff needs to be revised and improved.

Priority:

To reiterate the crucial need for the School, Faculties and Departments to better support GTAs and STFs by better remunerating their working hours. Doing nearly 50% of the overall teaching at SOAS it is crucial for the School find a way to improve the working conditions of all Fractionals before a new series of strikes and boycotts ends up disrupting the educational experience of students at the new beginning of this academic year.

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10.  Greater representation and transparency within SOAS’ governance structures

Concern:

The Students’ Union is concerned that many students and staff feel that there is a divide between themselves and the decision-making groups and bodies within the School. There is a strong sense that although SOAS deploys language about the SOAS community, Senior Management do not endeavour to engage or have dialogue with this community beyond formal channels, which are not sufficient due to lack of representation and transparency within existing structures. The exclusion of the majority of the SOAS community from School governance structures hinders communication and therefore prevents wider understanding of different positions and the reasons behind decision making. This fosters hostility, resulting in protest and industrial action which negatively impacts student experience.

Priority:

We strongly advocate for the ‘Academic-Board working group’ set up by Governing Body in April 2014, to follow its scope and proceed to a thorough review of the SOAS governance structures, conducted internally by a body comprising representatives of all stakeholder groups. We hope that such a review would indicate areas that can be reformed in order to make these structures more representative and transparent. We believe that such reforms would bring together the SOAS community and improve communication and understanding within this community, which is particularly important at this challenging time for SOAS with its expansion to SHNB.

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[1] This consultation was informally organised by the Students’ Union and the Student Representaives of those first year courses which had piloted the ‘Examination Feedback Pilot’.

[2] 2014 NSS results: Assessment and Feedback did not improve from 2013 NSS scores, remaining lower than average sector results.

 

This webpage was last updated on: 15 Sep 2015 17:00