Student Centricity: Quid Pro Quo or Forces in Opposition?Susan Barker | Vice Provost of Student Experience, University of Calgary
As universities primarily educate students, there is an assumption that they are student-centered, that programs, policies and procedures are focused on students’ needs and credible credentials are awarded to recognize their success.
When students face academic misconduct charges for plagiarizing a paper or when they are required to withdraw for failing to progress academically, it is difficult for them to see how it is in their best interests or that the institution is student-centered. For the vast majority of students, however, such actions are student-centered as upholding university standards on academic integrity and rigor protects those students who do play by the rules of the game and it does maintain the integrity and standards of the university. It’s a reminder that each and every student has a unique university experience. At the University of Calgary, we talk about 32,000 student experiences—there are 32,000 students here and every student has a rich set of experiences and talents that we need to nurture and build on.
There is no doubt that the use of student engagement surveys around the world (like the National Survey of Student Engagement in North America) have brought to the forefront the notion that engaged students tend to be more successful and satisfied with their studies. This in turn impacts university rankings and the currency of that well-earned credential, be it a degree or a certificate. The North American student affairs model focuses heavily on engagement outside of the classroom and at the University of Calgary we try and provide a broad range of offerings to ensure we support a diverse range of student interests and motivations (for example, in student leadership, intercultural competencies, community-engaged learning). We also promote the unique strengths of our students through strengths-based programming. This is where we can get close to student centricity, highlighting and valuing the strengths and talents of our 32,000 students.
These co-curricular experiences do bring students further into a student-centric model and it would seem that elsewhere in the world, universities are beginning to pay attention to this part of the student experience. A driving force is rising tuition fees and the somewhat controversial notion of students as consumers. Where there is a financial transaction for tuition or student services then the student is a consumer who not unreasonably expects high-quality service and some accountability from the institution, hence the quid pro quo.
However, performance evaluation of faculty members continues to focus on acquisition of research funding and output of publications in highly rated peer-reviewed journals. There’s little if any focus on how well they engage students or the extended office hours they may provide. These are clearly forces in opposition. Where is the direct value to the student of that recent publication in a highly cited research journal? There are many who would argue that students benefit from being taught by research-active faculty but the engagement data does not necessarily bear this out. Large research institutions often don’t do as well in student engagement as smaller, undergraduate, teaching-only colleges. Teaching quality is gaining more emphasis and, together with technological advances, enables more student-centered teaching. Flipped classrooms provide a great example of this.
The driving forces here are not necessarily from the institution but from the consumers—the students themselves. Consumers create demand and we are seeing a radical and transformative shift in the notion of student centricity. Student centricity is no longer the domain of rhetoric, where university staff was told to “think of yourself as a student.” We are past the point where the institution provides what they think the students need.
Student centricity is about responding to what the students actually want and when they want it. Large teaching computer labs are a thing of the past—students are digitally mobile and ready to engage in a learning experience almost anywhere. The demand for online course provision at a time that suits the student, with content the student requires, is becoming the new reality. In the current higher education landscape, student-centricity matters and it is absolutely important for us to nurture that. The uncertain postsecondary landscape that is emerging requires us all to be more agile in our interpretation of student centricity and what it means for the future of higher education
Author Perspective: Administrator