P07 Student Engagement with the Institution

Project Status: Close out due September 2014

Benefit Review scheduled for December 2014

Benefits - realised and anticipated

Student Assistantships

Deliverables: Brookes now has a formalised process for paid student assistantships that underpin a partnership approach to teaching and research. Hosted on the HR website (Generic job desriptions see Student Assistant) materials include:

  • A validated Job Description for Student Assistants at an agreed pay scale (Grade 3, Casual Contract) both for teaching in terms of design, organisation and delivery and for research.
  • A Confidentiality Agreement covering both confidentiality, data protection and intellectual property rights.
  • An explicit Process for the Employment of Student Assistants with links to relevant documents
  • An Overview/Case Study of both the process and the benefits of recruiting 'module assistants' in one Faculty.

Outcomes: Currently, three faculties have taken up the role of 'module assistants' and there are currently 18 student research assistants working on externally funded projects across the university, thus spreading partnership opportunities and arguably moving Brookes on from a culture of student 'voice' to 'collaboration'. An unanticipated benefit has been that external funding bodies seem drawn to projects that involve students in the research.

Sharing Good Practice about Student Engagement

Deliverables: The Brookes' Learning and Teaching Conference has moved to a March date to accommodate student participation. In 2013 the focus was on student engagement and student partnerships in all their forms were highlighted (e-Pioneers, Reps, Research Assistants, Module Assistants, Peer Advice on Learning Leaders, etc.).

Outcomes: Enhanced student participation in Brookes’ LTA research and development, in the 2014 Brookes Learning and Teaching Conference three presentations included students as co-presenters.

Brookes Student Engagement Survey

Deliverables: A Brookes Student Engagement Survey has been developed and distributed to all non-final year, campus-based undergraduates that includes core scales being used nationally at other universities. The survey can be viewed here

Anticipated Outcomes: This moves Brookes' student experience data forward from a largely 'satisfaction' orientation. Student engagement data is considered by experts better at determining educational quality than student satisfaction (Gibbs, 2010) and in identifying aspects of the student experience that require enhancement (Kuh, 2005). Findings will be analysed May - September and subsequently benefit realisation will be undertaken in December 2014.

Project synopsis

Put simply, student engagement matters. Student involvement in 'educationally purposive activities' has been robustly correlated with positive outcomes (Trowler and Trowler, 2010).

In an international review of research into student engagement, Vicki Trowler (2010) suggests that engagement is enhanced within three main strands of activity:

Student Learning

  • Student active participation in their learning (in- and out-of-class)
  • Collaborative activity (peer-to-peer learning, peer review, assessment etc.)
  • Student involvement in the design, delivery and assessment of their learning

Structure and process

  • Integrated and articulated student representation at course, department, and faculty level.
  • Meaningful participation in policy-making on committees, task forces, and governance groups, sometimes in leadership roles.


  • Enhancing students' sense of belonging to learning communities through a range of student partnership and student-led initiatives at both institutional and curricula levels
  • Enhancing tutor/student relationships (e.g. academic adviser relationships)

Currently at Brookes there is significant and purposeful activity in all three areas and at all levels (institutional, departmental, modular etc.) focused on enhancing student engagement. This project is just one small part of this mix. Initially, a review and gap analysis was undertaken to avoid duplication and cannibalisation with other PESE projects and institutional initiatives resulting in three initiatives for this project:

Key Initiative 1. Enhancing tutor/student relationships - Student Module Assistant Scheme

Student engagement is based on students' sense of belonging to learning communities enhanced through good student and staff relationships which in turn can be nurtured through student/tutor partnerships. The focus of this initiative is to provide the processes and materials that support student and staff partnerships, with students taking up paid roles as student 'module' assistants to academics in the design, organisation and delivery of modules and as 'research' assistants in both internally and externally funded research and teaching development projects.

Since 2006 a module assistant scheme has been run in the Faculty of Business. Robust evaluation has demonstrated that both staff and students benefit from the scheme. Students in terms of enhanced engagement and educational understandings and staff in terms of workload and stress. This project broadens these partnerships to include research and supports take up and adaptation across the University.

Documents providing information related to the scheme can be found at:

Key Initiative 2. Sharing good practice

Brookes has a lot to be proud of in terms of teaching and learning including activities that involve and engage students both within and beyond the classroom.

Key initiative 3. Measurement

Student engagement is key to students' academic success and yet, unlike America and Australia, in the UK we rarely define or measure the key ingredients, instead our central focus at both module and national level, has been on student satisfaction (e.g. the NSS). However, satisfaction surveys do not ask students to consider their own behaviours and the role that these play in how they experience their university learning environment. Indeed, such measures are not always good indicators of educational quality (Gibbs, 2010). Accordingly, a significant strand of PESE 07 has been on the development of a Brookes Student Engagement Survey.

As part of a national pilot four 'core' survey scales were developed by 14 universities including Brookes spearheaded by the HEA in 2012/13 including Course Challenge, Academic Integration, Higher Order Learning (previously known as Critical Thinking) and Collaborative Learning to enable some comparison between universities. In addition further scales were adopted from the American 'NSSE' including what students spend their time doing both in and beyond the classroom. Finally, local scales were developed to evaluate the distinctive characteristics of students' educational experience at Brookes including the Brookes's Graduate Attributes, the new Academic Adviser system and the Assessment Compact. The survey was distributed to all non-final year, campus-based undergraduates in March/April 2014. Data will be analysed in May-July 2014 with the intention of providing both baseline data against which we can measure our direction of travel in terms of student engagement and to provide data over and above that of student satisfaction on which to base future enhancements.

Key project milestones

  • Key Initiative 1: The Student Assistant Scheme detailed outline to Pro VC for approval (June 2012)
  • Key Initiative 1: Student Assistant Scheme disseminated to Faculty AESC's (March 2013)
  • Key Initiative 2: Brookes Learning and Teaching Conference on Student Engagement (27 March 2013)
  • Key Initiative 3: SSE- UK National Working Group set up with Brookes participation (September 2012)
  • Key Initiative 3: SSE-UK Scales developed (January, 2013)
  • Key Initiative 3: Brookes SSE developed and tested (January 2013)
  • Key Initiative 3: Brookes SSE distributed (March/April 2014)
  • Key Initiative 3: Findings analysed (May - September 2014)
  • Key Initiative 3: Benefits realisation completed (December 2014)


Project Sponsor Berry O'Donovan PL for Student Experience