What does an Effective Student Experience Strategy Look Like?

A student experience strategy is a set of actions and policies a university or other higher education provider puts in place to create an inclusive, supportive and collaborative educational environment. It spans multiple areas of focus such as curriculum, wellbeing, student unions and even urban planning and the wider university estate.

Evidently, what can be included in a student experience strategy is not exhaustive. However, we can focus on some key practices a university can undertake.

Improving the Education Offering

Much of what makes up an effective student experience strategy is the overall learning environment. Firstly, it needs to be inclusive not only in who is taught, but what is taught. This means providing the opportunity to learn from the voices of minority groups and communities. 

A Feedback-Based Curriculum

Secondly, it needs to be a curriculum or educational system that relies on feedback. Students need to be able to have their say when it comes to learning, in order to create buy-in from the student community and increase student engagement, so that you can gain feedback on things such as preferred learning styles . This means allowing opportunities to give feedback and making the effort to act on that feedback.

A Universally-Accessible Learning Environment

Thirdly, the learning environment needs to be accessible. Lectures and seminars should be recorded and uploaded to an online hub for students with hearing, sight or learning difficulties. This also benefits students who miss lectures because of illness. 

Career Support

Finally, consideration has to be given to how a university prepares students for life after university. This means each education provider needs a dedicated careers support service. It’s also worth providing services where students can find part-time or holiday-time jobs, on top of bringing work-related study into the curriculum.

For example, Coventry University runs a scheme known as Add+vantage, which is available on all full-time undergraduate courses. The scheme offers an annual module that covers work-related skills, such as entrepreneurial knowledge.

Potential Student Experience Pitfalls to Avoid

‘Student experience’ can be seen as a bit of a buzzword for many, especially the more corporate-minded within the education sector.

It’s an important thing to get right, which means focusing on attaining equality rather than using it as a marketing ploy.

There is also the risk of prioritising government targets, league tables and statistics over the views of students themselves. This is especially harmful for minority or disenfranchised students, who can be forgotten about in the hopes of bettering statistics. 

Peter Scott, professor of higher education studies at UCL’s Institute of Education, wrote in 2014 of how universities can take the wrong approach to Student Experience:

“The greater risk is that the complexity of the experiences of students will be reduced to a one-size-fits-all definition, short-term satisfaction as measured in instrumental and transactional terms.”

Essentially, a quality student experience strategy shouldn’t simply be a top-down approach. It should listen to the students, engage the students and paint a firsthand picture of what their university experience is truly like. Only then can a strategy be truly effective as it will have been created with student input and tailored to their needs.

Focusing On Student Wellbeing

A student experience strategy is nothing without a focus on supporting the wellbeing of students in a higher education environment.

In 2018, it was shown that five times as many students as ten years ago are now reporting mental health issues. 

Fortunately, many universities are already doing this. For example, UCL has a dedicated student wellbeing support team offering counseling, help and advice for both mental and physical wellbeing. The important thing, as shown by UCL, is having policies in place that are effective, making an effort to understand what goes into a best practice in this area.

To be more inclusive to those who may find it difficult to attend face-to-face appointments, they’ve also developed digital services and resources, such as an online training concerning sexual consent and crisis support.

As each student has different needs, offering bespoke support is a truly important and useful addition to an overall student experience strategy.

Supporting Inclusivity, Diversity and Equality

Diversity is not a simple thing. Everyone has the right to go to university and so the doors of a university are typically (metaphorically) wide open.

However, this doesn’t guarantee that minority and disenfranchised students are going to be able to begin a university career or see it through to the end. 

A university doesn’t just need an open-door policy, it needs a sustained and dedicated effort to keep those students supported – with services that cater to their bespoke needs.

Underrepresented or disadvantaged students need different support systems than ones provided to the majority. Without resources that are adequately positioned, any diversity or inclusive action is likely to fail. Without resources, without sustained effort and without directly challenging the issues these students face, there isn’t much strength to policies such as these.

However, to combat this, there are a number of things a student experience strategy can include:

  1. Promote correct pronoun-use in university communications such as email. Allow students to enter their own pronouns into campus data systems.
  2. Create dedicated offices whose sole purpose is to support multicultural organisations and students of different backgrounds.
  3. Diversify your admissions staff. When it comes to recruiting new students, a diverse team will be able to cater for and appeal to many different groups.
  4. Similarly, diversify both your faculty and curriculum.
  5. Provide ranges of cuisine for those who have dietary restrictions.
  6. Conduct regular surveys on the collaborative nature of the university, the sense of belonging, wellbeing support and how inclusive the university is.
  7. Offer staff the opportunity to take diversity training, which could be in the form of workshops, events or webinars.

(Please note, this list is not exhaustive.)

Creating a fair, inclusive, democratic student experience strategy is not only admirable – it’s essential. If you’re looking for help improving the Student Experience within your organisation, you can use our guide.

Improving Student Experience

In our helpful download, you’ll discover the best practices when it comes to enhancing student experience. The guide covers information on the current state of UK universities and also gives expert advice on creating strategies that work for everyone.

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