Understanding your institution from the student perspective: Introduction

The experiences of students today – and the belief framework within which they interpret those experiences – are very different from those whose experience as a student was a decade or more ago.


Added by Tricia Scott, September 2011.

Clearly, students see the institution from a different perspective than those employed in it. As part of the research phase, the Distinct project explored the ways in which different HEIs tap into current student experience.

Qualitative ways of capturing the student perspective

The VC of one institution has taken on a “student mentor” - someone from a background totally different to his own, and who can give him an insight that all the other contacts he has with students cannot. It creates space for the student to talk about concerns and day-to-day experiences, which no end of meetings with an agenda (typically set by university staff) can do.  In setting this up, this VC has recognised that – with the best will in the world – his position of authority can be a barrier to free communication. By creating this opportunity, he effectively ‘gives permission’ for an open and honest exchange.

Listening, learning, responding

Within a survey to understand the student perspective, one institution asks its new undergraduates to identify the attributes of universities that are important to them, and then the extent to which their institution is different from other institutions on that attribute.

But that only goes part of the way. For example, if students at an institution believe that the passion of their lecturers for the subjects they teach is extremely important, one would expect them to believe that the lecturers in the institution they have entered are more passionate than elsewhere. But if they aren’t – what then? Through social media, students can inform the world of any failure to deliver. Institutions need to review what they are promising (on the website, in the prospectus, at open days etc) and ensure that they live up to those promises.

The important thing for an institution is not to seek to justify or explain failures but to respond to them by making changes. When an institution has a clear and coherent identity, this can help as a reference-point for how to address issues. And once issues have been addressed, it is important to communicate what has been done and how the changes benefit students.

Contribute to our growing resources

If you have a case study, report, or other resource you would like to share with colleagues in the sector we would love to hear from you. Please contact us at contact@distinct.ac.uk


Topics: Establishing your distinctiveness.

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For a detailed guide on how to capture the learning from students, along with a round-up of useful toolkits, take a look at the following briefing notes:

PDFiconAnalysing your institution by survey: Briefing note (79 KB)

PDFiconUnderstanding your institution (115 KB)