The student is at the heart of everything at University of Nottingham Ningbo China. One of the key strategic goals of the university is to ‘unlock the potential of every student through delivering internationally-context, research-oriented and exceptional campus experience.’ We hear from Ivy Sun (Deputy Director for Strategy and Performance) and Chuchu Lou (Senior Reporting Officer) as they explain what this means in practice, and how they use the Student Barometer to inform strategic decision-making across the university, in order to achieve that strategic goal.
University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) first introduced the Student Barometer more than ten years ago and have been running the comparative student survey annually ever since. Ivy explains why it has become such an important management tool for the university.
“The survey provides valuable insights for us to benchmark with our counterpart universities in UK and Malaysia as well as with other universities in Asia and globally. As we aim to be a borderless university, it’s important for us to capture the students' voice, especially at a time with changing international context and emerging technologies that disrupt traditional teaching and learning.”
“We use the data from Student Barometer extensively to inform decision-making. It is weaved into our strategic plans and we even set the students’ satisfaction rate as one of our primary KPIs. There are initiatives and projects planned every year in response to the students feedback gathered.”
As an international university, internationalisation is an important feature of UNNC, with students arriving from more than 60 different countries. So, it is crucial to understand their performance in a global context – this is a key aspect of the Student Barometer, as it provides a comprehensive analysis of the full student experience, including motivating factors, perceptions, and wellbeing factors; but critically it also benchmarks participating universities results for comparison purposes, as Chuchu explains.
“It enables us to not only monitor our own performance but also our competitive positioning in the regional and global higher education context over time. The range of questions in the survey covers almost every aspect of student experience, which enables us to identify at a more concrete level our competitive edge and areas for improvements.”
The Student Barometer is also used to compare with UNNC’s counterpart universities - University of Nottingham in the UK, and University of Nottingham Malaysia – providing rich comparative insights into student experience performance, as well as the quality assurance regarding their provision.
The Student Barometer has now become a business-as-usual practice at the university, with Chuchu and Ivy standardising the annual cycle of survey launch, result analysis, stakeholder engagements and action tracking to ensure effective follow-up of students’ responses. The importance of the survey is acknowledged at all levels across the university, from the Senior Leaders forum to faculty heads and academics, something that is aided by Student Barometer’s reporting. As well as a detailed presentation of the results and analysis by their Regional Director, Ivy and Chuchu - also have access to the Barometer’s reporting portal InTouch.
The portal is a self-service dashboard containing all current and historical comparison data, enabling users to gain a deeper understanding about the results specific to their functions, and scrutinise the data further by filtering results on aspects such as course, level of study, year of study, and student nationality. Ivy and Chuchu also run their own analysis, sharing dashboards across the university with staff such as senior leaders, department heads and school heads. In addition, the Strategy and Planning Team provides tailored analysis and answers enquiries from various professional services and faculties to support thorough analysis and fair interpretation of the results. The subsequent action plans are then incorporated into the university’s strategic development plan.
This approach to the continuous improvement of the student experience at UNNC has resulted in some world-class findings in the Student Barometer.
Their results lead the way among Asian benchmark groups in terms of satisfaction with learning, library, sports and social facilities, and the overall campus environment, exceeding global benchmarks in each instance.
Chuchu also notes how it is good to see the university observing consistently improving scores since 2019 for its virtual learning environment.
Success stories are not just limited to the campus which has been developed to meet the contemporary needs of students from a wide range of countries.
UNNC research students are well supported in both their academic and living aspects, with almost 95% happy with their learning experience at the university. The university provides opportunities for students to take part in international conferences and engage in teaching activities. Furthermore, they have established a number of partnerships with leading research institutions in China to provide joint supervision for students and broaden their research network and prospects. Again, this plays out in the Barometer results, particularly with their PGR students:
In fact, 27 out of the 29 learning aspects surveyed by the Barometer have improved year-on-year at UNNC.
UNNC is also keenly aware that it’s not just about campus facilities and excellent learning provision. Social activities, introduction to campus and facilities, and introduction to clubs and societies all outperform the Asian benchmark, placing them amongst the best globally.
Universities with a strong commitment to internationalisation can often struggle with issues around, inclusivity and wellbeing but a key part of the UNNC’s culture is its core value of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). It’s a value that is very much transformed into policy and actions, with the student population realising the benefits, as borne out in their Barometer feedback.
In the past academic year the university launched a new student well-being centre, integrating and strengthening things like well-being services, online counselling and disability support. Every March there is a series of events to promote EDI, and every semester they run a series of events called 5HT, using a range of activities designed to help students reduce any anxieties they may have during exam season.
Recent Student Barometer feedback indicated a need to focus on employability measures, something the university has responded to well as they have seen career and employability scores climb in comparison to the previous year.
Initiatives to forge stronger industry partnerships have been combined with developing the career systems to facilitate students connecting to internship opportunities. Setting up talent training bases offers more hands-on experience for students and opportunities to innovate. For example, the Digital Transformation Consulting Programme under the joint effort with Amazon Global Selling encourages students to provide solutions for challenges in the real business world. And AI technologies have been brought in to support CV writing, and careers support has been further enhanced through the introduction of CV reviews and mock interview support – all of which gives UNNC students the skills to be career-ready for the international stage.
COVID-19 naturally impacted the numbers of on-campus international students, and the university has a number of projects and initiatives to increase its profile abroad, in order to increase those student numbers. Using the Barometer they are able to identify their strengths and inform those recruitment initiatives to increase the diversity of the student population. Chuchu and Ivy are also able to evaluate the impact agencies have on their students’ decision to study at Nottingham China by using the analysis of students’ decision-making factors. For UNNC, this has particular significance, given education agents are the number one influencing factor on their students’ choice of destination, far outstripping the Asia benchmark, and providing the university with a clear focus in order to hit their recruitment KPIs.
Ivy explains how else the Student Barometer will aid the trajectory in this area:
“It enables us to focus on the areas for improvements to provide an unparalleled campus experience for international students. And findings about our competitive edge in the benchmarking analysis will inform our marketing messaging and be shared with prospective students from around the world.”
By using data-led evidence and comparative benchmarks to understand the university’s strengths and areas for improvement, University of Nottingham Ningbo China is continuously improving the quality of the student experience and informing strategic decisions around investment, student recruitment and retention, and the quality of the educational experience, with successes on multiple fronts when compared to their Asian and global counterparts.
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