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Vice-Chancellor's response to Fadhila A. Al Dhahouri's open letter - 20/02/2019

Thank you for your letter regarding the “Transforming Cardiff” programme, which I received by email on the 14th February 2019.

I welcome student engagement on Transforming Cardiff. However, I am deeply disappointed that the reassurance from both myself and the Chair of Council that the paper presented to University Council contained a framework of ideas, on which we will now extensively consult, has not clarified the situation for you. I hope very much that you will engage as we take the ideas forward. As you rightly observe, student input is going to be very important.

As the paper makes clear, Transforming Cardiff will enable us to deliver on The Way Forward 2018-23 in a way that is innovative and financially sustainable. I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the commitments to students in The Way Forward sub-strategy on education and students. We committed to “work in partnership with our students to take them on an inspiring educational journey that will develop their leadership skills and prepare them for the world of work, enabling them to participate fully in society and enrich their lives.”

We also committed to “ensuring a high quality and consistent student experience, attracting well-qualified and motivated students who will benefit from and contribute to our excellent research and learning environment. We will provide a high quality, flexible learning environment alongside excellent student services.”

In support of the above, we set ourselves challenging Key Performance Indicators around student satisfaction and clear student-focused objectives, including to:

  • create a Centre for Student Life to deliver efficient, effective and transformational services to our students
  • offer all students the opportunity to undertake a work placement during the course of their studies
  • ensure that all students receive regular, timely and useful feedback on their academic progress
  • ensure that our students are challenged, stretched and supported in their studies to achieve to the full extent of their ability
  • listen to our students, and use their feedback to improve our teaching and the wider student experience
  • continue to develop our physical and digital learning environments to support independent and collaborative learning.

Transforming Cardiff is designed to enable us to fulfil these commitments, placing the student experience and student satisfaction at the heart of our endeavours.

I now come to your specific concerns.

1.Protection of students on courses or modules set for closure.

We do not yet have any firm proposals for the closure of courses. However, we do have clear policies in place to protect students should this occur. The University has a contractual obligation to deliver a programme of study as promised to both prospective students who have been made an offer (this is when the contract is issued) and to students who are currently pursuing a programme. Not doing so would be a breach of contract.

The procedure to be followed to discontinue a programme is detailed in the University’s Programme Approval Policy (https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/public-information/quality-and-standards/programme-approval).

In the event of the discontinuation of a specific programme, the University would implement a ‘Teach Out Plan’ to ensure that students on the programme complete the programme, receive a comparable student experience to any previous cohorts, and that academic standards are maintained.

A ‘Teach Out Plan’ would consider specific arrangements for courses in which there is collaborative provision, as well as arrangements for the potential interruption of study, placement years or the repeating of modules. A ‘Teach Out Plan’ would be continuously monitored to ensure that the impact is minimised until all students have completed the programme.

The discontinuation of specific modules, and indeed the offering of new modules, are part of our business as usual activities. Again, in relation to our contractual obligations, we could not nor would not close modules currently being undertaken by students.

I hope the above policy reassures you.

2.Student support services

We are committed to excellent student support services and I hope you will engage in the development of ideas around student hubs, as well as other ideas aimed at improving our student services. Our current thinking is that student hubs could work well alongside the Centre for Student Life, and will enable us to further improve the education service for our students and staff. Student hubs would draw together processes from across schools and professional services to provide a single front-line enquiry service and point of contact for students and staff for all education support matters. Student hubs would be strategically placed across the campus, aligned to our academic schools, near to our students and will work in conjunction with the Centre for Student Life to provide a single service that is consistent and excellent. Student hubs will be co-created by academic and professional services staff and will take account of specific disciplinary needs.  Our plans will be developed in consultation with students.

I believe that student hubs are an exciting idea and I am keen to explore them further with staff and students.  Again, your constructive input, and that of other students, will be most welcome.

You will also be aware that there is already £5m currently being invested in the student support service redesign underway as part of the Centre for Student Life project. I am keen to ensure we are sector leaders in relation to our student support services.

3.Risk assessment

Transforming Cardiff will be taken forward under a robust governance framework that will include risk assessments for all the work packages. The risk register will be monitored, appropriately, by University Council.

4. Staff workload

As you will know from the extensive discussions at Council, Transforming Cardiff is a carefully managed and phased programme that will work alongside the timeline for The Way Forward 2018-23. Both the University Executive Board and Council listened carefully to concerns about workload and moved away from a shorter time frame.

I would also like to make you aware of the work we have been doing on academic workload more generally, and to reassure you that this will continue to be a priority. We are committed to working with all the members of the University community, including the recognised campus trade unions, to operate a fair and transparent framework for allocating workloads across the University.

We have adopted a Workload Allocation Model in order to do this, accompanied by a Workload Policy. These were developed following an extensive period of consultation with the trade unions.

The Workload Policy is designed to provide a systematic approach to academic workload allocation and to assist the University to address its obligations in managing the health and safety of its staff, particularly with regard to stress, well-being and work-life balance.

We want to establish clear evidence that will support parity, consistency and fairness of treatment in the allocation of work to all academic staff, taking account of discipline-specific characteristics.

However, we recognise that there are always areas for further improvement. That is why, following feedback from academic staff, Heads of School, School Managers, and the trade unions, we are currently undertaking a review of the workload allocation model. The review aims to streamline the workload modelling framework; make the model more representative of how our academic staff spend their time and; improve how the system is administered to make it easier and quicker for staff involved.

On your point about PGR students, our code of practice for PGR teaching at Cardiff clearly states that a PGR’s engagement in teaching should always be secondary to their primary purpose of completing their research programme, and the hours allocated are limited so as not to impede academic progress.

5. International students

You will be aware that the International Student Journey Partnership Project has brought together colleagues from across the Students’ Union, Professional Services and Schools to consider the international student experience, with the aim of working together to identify ways in which we can further support this important cohort of students. As one of the joint chairs of the project, you agreed that the project would include the production of a video showcasing international students’ experience which could be used to inform and raise awareness among staff at the University about international student perceptions. I understand that colleagues from the Student Engagement team, the Students’ Union and our Advice and Money service are facilitating three workshops on 25th February, looking at the experiences of our international students on undergraduate, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research programmes.

Student Support have also recruited additional staff to oversee the delivery of University-wide projects that specifically support students transitioning into university life in the UK. Whilst not confined solely to international students, a significant aspect is aimed at making improvements to the transition to university for our international students, including enhanced international induction programmes, supplemented by additional in-year engagement. Student support colleagues are already working closely with the Students’ Union in addition to other key areas of the University (the International Office; Student Engagement; Development and Alumni Relations; and Marketing and Communications), and with external stakeholders, to further improve the support provided to our International students. We are committed to working with our international students and with colleagues to ensure that they are well supported throughout their studies and achieve successful outcomes.

6. Consultation

We are developing a work plan for Transforming Cardiff. In that we will set out our plans for wide consultation and engagement opportunities for students, staff and other stakeholders. To be clear, we were not in a position to consult widely until Council were satisfied with the direction of travel.

I look forward to your engagement on Transforming Cardiff in the future.