Like it or not, tertiary education is becoming increasingly commodified. Tuition fees have become more common as the higher education sector has grown in size and the funding required to sustain it has increased. Some governments have decided that charging tuition fees is the only way to ease the financial pressure on the treasury (and to support students from less affluent backgrounds). Advocates of tuition fees state this as a positive development: students buy a stake in their education and are accorded ’consumer’ status, with all the rights that brings. Opponents have been fighting the commodification of education for years, with a recent study suggesting that students who see themselves as consumers, rather than learners, get lower grades.
Whatever your opinion, one thing’s for sure: with the average annual cost to the student reaching as much as £27,000, it’s no wonder that students’ expectations of their institutions are rising. As an education provider, how do you know if you’re succeeding in meeting your students’ needs and giving them good value for money? You ask them! Or rather, the national independent funding body for higher education asks them.
In the Netherlands, that body is Studiekeuze123 – a collaboration of the Ministry of Education, students and higher education institutions. Its stated aim is to offer “independent, comprehensive and reliable information about all accredited programs at colleges and universities in [the] Netherlands.” Its website – www.studiekeuze123.nl – is a one-stop shop for prospective students, helping them to select the right institution based on a huge amount of information – much of it collected from existing students via its annual survey, the Nationale Studente Enquête (NSE). The NSE is a wide-ranging survey on the various aspects of the tertiary learning experience: the programme’s curriculum, acquired skills, career preparation, lecturers, information provided by the programme, study facilities, assessment, study workload, student guidance and, of course, timetables.
For the prospective student, there are few more credible sources of information than the lived experiences of existing students. Performing well in the NSE has become central to a Dutch university’s appeal, with many using its outcomes as part of their marketing strategy – comparing themselves favourably with their academic rivals or boasting about improvements on the previous year’s scores. Most importantly, the NSE is a key feedback tool for Dutch universities, enabling them to improve the academic experience for their current and future students. And giving students the best experience possible is certainly in their interest: research shows that student satisfaction affects the entire student lifecycle, from retention to alumni giving.
Helping institutions to achieve their strategic goals is one of Scientia’s stated aims. Two of the NSE questions are specifically about timetabling, and two about space management:
- Is your timetable published on time?
- Are timetable changes published on time?
- Is there suitable study space?
- Is there available work space?
So we had cause to celebrate when we analysed the NSE results this year:
- on average, Dutch institutions which use our timetabling and resource management solutions equal or beat the national average in the categories related to timetabling and space management.
- In the case of the Universities we support (as opposed to Hogeschools), they beat the averages significantly – by around half a point in most categories.
- More compelling still is the difference between the average ‘non-Scientia’ institutions and those using our solutions: almost a full point in most cases, particularly on questions around timetabling.
|Timetable published on time||Timetable changes published on time||Suitable study space||Available work space|
|Scientia Uni Average||3.3||3.0||3.4||2.8|
|Scientia Hogeschools Average||2.8||2.6||3.0||2.6|
The take-home point here is simple: students at Dutch institutions which use our Enterprise Foundation timetabling suite are happier with their timetables than those which don’t. Furthermore, those institutions are more able to make the right kind of study space available to their students. This is the bit where we sit back and rest on our laurels, right? Wrong. We can do better. You can do better.
We have a range of student-focussed solutions which could help you to better serve your future alumni (you know, the ones who in the US give almost $11bn a year to their former colleges): if you’re already using Enterprise Foundation for your timetabling, Publish enables you to send personalised timetables direct to your students’ phone, tablet or PC; Student Allocator empowers students to make choices of activities, modules and tutorials for themselves through any web browser; and you don’t even need to have Enterprise Foundation to implement our Resource Booker solution, which enables students and staff to make and manage their own room and resource bookings…
Congratulations to our Dutch clients for an outstanding performance in this year’s NSE. Here’s to continuous improvement, no matter where you fall in the rankings.