Prof. Peter Yuen. Dean of the College of Professional and Continuing Education of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU CPCE), discusses how the College’s benchmarking of the student experience provides them with the information to inform successful strategies that put the College on a positive trajectory in a highly competitive market.
PolyU CPCE is rather unique. As a self-financing arm of PolyU, it is fairly autonomous, operating like an independent private entity within a public university. However, in terms of academic governance, it is part of PolyU, and as such all programmes go through the same Quality Assurance system as any programmes within the University. What makes PolyU CPCE particularly unique, however, is its mission to provide multiple entry and exit pathways to learners and the size of operations: offering over 30 associate degree and higher diploma programmes and over 40 degree programmes (including full-time and part-time) that cover all major disciplines you would find in a comprehensive university, plus a student population close to 12,000. Prof. Yuen is therefore akin to both the CEO managing the College, and also the Dean ensuring the quality of programmes is on a par with all other PolyU programmes.
Effectively capturing the student voice is an integral part of the College’s continued success, as Prof. Yuen explains.
“Because we are a relatively young organisation - about 20 years old - we always seek ways to understand where we are and how we can improve. And as a teaching-focused institution, it’s important for us to know how our students feel, and whether our teaching and learning activities are of high quality.”
Creating and maintaining a competitive edge
There is another key reason for PolyU CPCE’s involvement in the Student Barometer – the highly competitive environment in which the College operates. The decline in Hong Kong’s overall student population and a low birth rate have seen the number of secondary school graduates drop year-on-year to half the number when Prof. Yuen first started at the College. With its scale, PolyU CPCE no longer just confines itself to the local market, rather, it strives to be competitive on the international stage.
“In order to stay ahead, you really need to know how you are doing and make improvements. While our main focus is on improving teaching and learning, enhancing the experience of our students is obviously equally important. We want to encourage word-of-mouth referrals based on high quality education students receive here, and the really good student experience that we provide. So that's why assessing and comparing the student experience is so important to us.”
Of course, PolyU CPCE runs its own student surveys, the results of which have been consistently strong, but without an objective comparison, it is difficult to put those results into context – does PolyU CPCE measure up well to other institutions, or is it the culture in Hong Kong that students are being polite in their responses and providing inflated feedback? This is why Prof. Yuen sees the benchmarking aspect of the Student Barometer as being of particular value.
“We need to obtain the evidence - the benchmarks with other institutions that show how we compare locally, regionally and internationally. That is our motivation to participate in the Student Barometer, and it has proven to be a highly worthwhile exercise.”
Despite the adverse demographics, PolyU CPCE has managed to increase its enrolment numbers, but Prof. Yuen acknowledges that there is no room for complacency – they need to constantly monitor and evaluate in order to identify areas where the College needs to improve in order to maintain its advantages in the competitive market. In this respect, the analysis provided by the Student Barometer focusing on student motivations and their decision-making processes is of particular interest to PolyU CPCE.
Informing approaches to the learning experience
During COVID, the College observed that students actually found that the teaching and learning was just as good as previously, with the exception that online assessment, which helped the College focus its attention on that particular area for improvement. In fact, international student satisfaction with the online learning experience at PolyU CPCE has exceeded that of the Asian benchmark in every single aspect surveyed. Furthermore, the College’s results for learning across the board have been very impressive, with 23 out of the 29 aspects surveyed improving on the previous year.
Developing the most effective models for teaching and learning is naturally important to a teaching-focused institution, and these Student Barometer analyses are testament to the work being done by the College to fully understand, and respond to, changing student needs since COVID. Post-COVID, PolyU CPCE was surprised to discover that more than half of its students actually preferred online delivery, and the College has subsequently started implementing blended learning in a bold manner, but in a way that still allows for face-to-face interaction. In this way, the College is responding to student preferences, whilst also enabling more effective modes of teaching delivery based on the latest pedagogical research findings. And of course, as the new mode of delivery is rolled out for the appropriate programmes, PolyU CPCE is monitoring the impact on the student experience. One of the benefits of the Student Barometer is its ability to analyse results by a wide range of filters – such as year of study, mode of study, nationality, campus, faculty, course – giving participating institutions a deep-dive into the detail of the data, and enabling them to make highly informed decisions about all aspects of the student experience.
Creating a compelling case for students to choose PolyU CPCE
PolyU CPCE continues to improve year-on-year across multiple measures. . One of the most important areas that influences overall student satisfaction is that of employability – the number one influencer on choice of destination – and here when PolyU CPCE final year students are asked, “How well has your experience prepared you for your career goals?”, 79% reported feeling very prepared/prepared, compared to an Asian benchmark of 71%. It is therefore not so surprising to also see the College’s overall satisfaction score for international students has exceeded the Asian benchmark – 95% vs 90%.
All in all, PolyU CPCE places great importance on collecting students’ feedback. What sets it even apart is its strategic utilisation of the benchmarking data provided by the Student Barometer, empowering itself to make informed decisions that will positively impact students the most. In doing so, the College is actively advancing towards its strategic objectives while cultivating a world-class student experience in a fiercely competitive market.
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