Could this be a sign of the times?
Coventry University has nudged past many of its Russell Group peers to reach the highest position ever achieved by a former polytechnic in the Guardian league table of universities.
Coventry reached number 15 in the table, higher than many of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, including Birmingham, Edinburgh, York, Leeds, Glasgow, Cardiff, Nottingham and Newcastle.
So how has this been achieved?
It was positive ratings from finalists that helped to drive Coventry University’s rise up the rankings, according to the compiler of the tables Matt Hiely-Rayner: “It is particularly in the questions that relate to assessment and feedback that Coventry does well. This is interesting because it is the only area of the student survey where finalists often show dissatisfaction.”
The university also has impressive student-staff ratios, he adds. “Few institutions outside the Russell Group manage such a low number of students per member of academic staff – and some Russell Group members don’t either.”
John Latham, vice-chancellor of Coventry University, says the university’s success is down to its focus on students’ needs. “We’re a modern university, but not just in the sense that we haven’t been around for as long – we’re very modern in our approach. We’re challenging the system. We’re bringing in new forms of pedagogy and listening to students.”
The university has three objectives: “teaching students well, making sure that students are listened to, and making sure they get good jobs at the end of their course,” says Ian Dunn, deputy vice-chancellor for student experience at Coventry.
What’s startling here is the subtext that other universities don’t pay attention to students’ needs, don’t listen to the voices and opinions of their students, don’t offer them high quality careers guidance, haven’t re-thought their pedagogy, and don’t do well with formative assessment and feedback to students.
Are we truly surprised by this? Not really – having had recent personal experience of various ways in which so-called top universities are currently failing their students in these crucial areas of their learning and their wellbeing.
We hope to do some further research into Coventry’s success, and will report back when we’ve done so. We’re particularly interested in what this university means by “challenging the system” and “new forms of pedagogy”. It’s highly probable that our other universities can learn from Coventry’s successes.