Report to HEFCE on student engagement

Little, Brenda; Locke, William; Scesa, Anna and Williams, Ruth (2009). Report to HEFCE on student engagement. CHERI, The Open University, London.


This study, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), explored the extent and nature of student engagement in the higher education sector in England. The study was concerned with institutional and student union processes and practices – such as those relating to student representation and student feedback – which seek to inform and enhance the collective student learning experience, as distinct from specific teaching, learning and assessment activities that are designed to enhance individual students’ engagement with their own learning.

The study found that institutions view student engagement as central to enhancing the student experience, but the emphasis seems to be placed on viewing students as consumers. For student unions, the emphasis is on viewing them as partners in a learning community. The latter notion seems to be stronger in certain subject areas (for example, Art and Design and Performing Arts) than others.

The majority of HEIs and FE colleges rate their student engagement processes – comprising a basic model of student feedback questionnaires and student representation systems – as reasonably or very effective; student unions are less likely to do so. Detailed discussions with staff and students within a diverse range of HE providers showed that actual practices vary between and within institutions and that their effectiveness could be improved.

Higher education institutions, student unions and further education colleges with significant higher education provision were surveyed to establish a baseline measure of the nature and extent of student engagement processes. Further exploration of institutions’ formal and informal processes and their effectiveness was undertaken through fieldwork with a number of higher education providers and student unions.

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