You are here:

Uniquely satisfying – University of London distance and flexible learning programmes

International reputation and the flexible format of its online programmes cited among top five reasons why students chose to study with UoL.

Written by Binda Rai |

Student Voice Group co-chairs, John Saddington and Shireen Sindi
Professor Mary Stiasny: "I am pleased to see a real sense of belonging to a global learning community and feeling better prepared for a future career".

The international reputation and the flexible format of its online programmes have been cited amongst the top five reasons why students chose to study with the University of London’s distance and flexible learning programmes.

The results of a recent survey of University of London students found that their top five reasons for registering with the University were:  

1.    The University of London’s reputation.
2.    The programme format allows me to learn anytime, anywhere.
3.    The reputation of the Member Institutions of the University of London. 
4.    The available study modules meeting student interests.
5.    The cost of the programme in relation to the academic experience.

The  2019-20 Student Experience Survey, carried out across 180 countries, covered a wide range of students including mature learners, undergraduates, postgraduates, as well as those studying through a local Recognised Teaching Centre and those opting for self-study.

Academic programmes are delivered to 50,000 students globally by the University of London in collaboration with its 17 Member Institutions such as UCL, King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

This unique model, used by the University of London to deliver higher education, has lived up to or exceeded the expectation of its global community of students, with an average of 88% saying they received what they expected or better. This finding applies to a wide range of the University’s 100+ suite of programmes including Law, Public Health, Professional Accountancy and Computer Science.

80% of respondents agreed that their programme is well organised and running smoothly. This is 10 percentage points above the National Student Survey (NSS) result for full-time, final year undergraduates in England in 2019. Meanwhile, 85% of the University of London’s students were satisfied with the quality of their study programme and 84% said the flexibility of the programme met their needs.

Many of our students juggle work, family life and study, and our programmes are uniquely designed to help with this.

Professor Mary Stiasny OBE said: “Whilst I appreciate that this survey was conducted before the global pandemic, which resulted in the University having to very quickly transition to online assessments, I am pleased that the survey results show a generally high level of satisfaction amongst our students. This satisfaction comes from students receiving face-to-face tuition in our local Recognised Teaching Centres across the world, and for those undertaking self-study. Many of our students juggle work, family life and study, and our programmes are uniquely designed to help with this.

“The findings of the survey are particularly satisfying because here at the University of London, together with our Member Institutions, we have continued to evolve our learning materials to ensure they are as relevant as they can be, and have realised innovative new ways of delivering programmes and engaging with students, and our student survey is just one example of this. I am also pleased to see that there is increasing levels of satisfaction with our Virtual Learning Environments (80%), and a real sense of belonging to a global learning community and feeling better prepared for a future career. In my view these are crucial elements in being able to study effectively as distance and flexible learners.

Professor Stiasny added: “I would like to thank our global student community for engaging so proactively with us and this feedback helps us to drive change so that we can better meet the needs of our diverse student community across the world. And this feedback has been particularly helpful more immediately in shaping our response to the health pandemic”.

John Saddington, LLB student and co-chair of the Student Voice Group (2019-20), provides his reflections on the results of the 2019-2020 Student Experience Survey.

I was greatly encouraged to see that areas of success identified in the survey includes academic rigour, intellectual stimulation, and flexibility of the programmes. From my perspective, these are all key aspects of what the University of London provides, and I think they do a really good job. Clearly lots of other students think so as well!

The programme resources available through the VLE, including the online library, have improved over the last few years and this has been acknowledged by the survey respondents, with 80% feeling that the VLE has supported their studies well, 79% stating that programme materials and resources were easy to access, and finally 74% feeling that the online library resources and services have helped with their studies. For a distance learning provider, these have to be good and it is clear that students, from all around the world, feel that they are.

Distance learning allows for effective studying alongside work or other commitments, and can result in enhanced career opportunities.

I was also really pleased to see that so many of my fellow students feel that their career prospects have improved owing to their studies with the University of London, as I certainly believe this to be true. Distance learning allows for effective studying alongside work or other commitments, and can result in enhanced career opportunities. The University of London works hard to help students access useful career information and this provision supports academic learning really well.

As there is a fully established and active Student Voice Group present within the quality assurance process of the University of London, it will come as no surprise to discover how involved with the Student Experience Survey we have been. Prior to this recent survey, we spent time discussing the questions used in previous iterations and testing out versions of new questions that were subsequently included, for instance questions about clarity of information relating to fees and assessments, and also the provision of information provided at the start of a student studying, and whether that was sufficient or not (a very encouraging 77% thought that it was).

Our involvement continued once the survey had been released. Finally, the Student Voice Group was involved in the discussion of all survey results, as a way of further exploring any themes that had emerged in the data. Once that loop has closed, it won’t be too long before the process begins again, for the Student Experience Survey 2021-22, which will hopefully see even more great feedback from our many thousands of satisfied students.

Shireen Sindi, MSc Clinical Trials student and co-chair of the Student Voice Group (2019-21), also provides her perspective on the results of the 2019-20 Student Experience Survey.  

Students within the University of London’s distance and flexible learning programmes are highly diverse in terms of academic backgrounds and levels of work experience, and it was impressive to read that despite this level of diversity, 90% of students state that they find their programme intellectually stimulating. This suggests that the programmes have successfully managed to select appropriate learning outcomes, assessments, and learning activities. This is supported by the survey statements that the programme has: provided opportunities to explore ideas/concepts in depth, provided opportunities to bring information and ideas together from different topics, and challenged students to achieve their best work.

Indeed, these statements reflect the in-depth higher level and applied knowledge that the students are acquiring. The results also suggest that the educational programmes are complemented by advanced pedagogic learning tools. For example, students reported high ratings regarding resources, indicating that the learning materials enable them to understand the fundamentals of the subject (85%) and that the VLE has supported their learning well (80%), with the latter having improved since the last academic year.

These results suggest that the programmes are well tailored to their respective student populations, providing them with sufficient intellectual stimulation, support, and the means to reach their learning goals.

Adequate and constructive feedback is essential for any learning programme. It was therefore encouraging to read that this year, students have shown improved satisfaction regarding the feedback they receive on assessment work, and the extent to which they find it helpful. Taken together, these results suggest that the programmes are well tailored to their respective student populations, providing them with sufficient intellectual stimulation, support, and the means to reach their learning goals.

As a member of the Student Voice Group, it has been a valuable opportunity to contribute to the development of the survey, as we have a chance to suggest different survey questions that assess a broad range of topics regarding student experiences. In addition to the questions on the academic dimensions, we are able to highlight the importance of subjective experiences such as being part of a learning community, having adequate opportunities to connect with classmates, stress management, mental health support and having a chance to provide feedback on one’s programme.

Discussing the survey results is an insightful activity, as it offers us a chance to listen to fellow students’ concrete real-life examples of the questionnaire items. This is feasible because Student Voice Group members consider the group to be a safe environment where they can share their experiences and offer their perspectives. We also try to identify patterns across programmes, and this inspires us to highlight priority areas that we would like to focus on, and it allows us to actively plan and develop tailored initiatives that can improve students’ experiences. For example, following previous ratings of mental health support, stress management and developing a sense of community, we at the Student Voice Group have been able to propose ideas such as developing online communities (e.g. a student virtual book club or other student clubs), and we have supported the development of a mental wellbeing mobile app by offering feedback and the student perspective on its usage.

Moreover, we are currently exploring further innovative ideas to offer students opportunities to connect with classmates, such as social media and virtual study groups. Altogether, our Student Voice Group participation is a unique opportunity to identify student needs and translate them into actions and initiatives that can further support the wider University of London student community, and optimise their learning experiences.

[main image: John Saddington and Shireen Sindi]