The Open University carries out a Periodic Quality Review (PQR) of each curriculum area every six years.
Each curriculum area is reviewed by:
• A panel of two Open University academics
• At least one academic from another University
• An Open University student
The student panel member reviews the curriculum as a full member of the panel, but also makes sure student voice is heard throughout the PQR. The panel meet with colleagues from the curriculum area, the wider faculty, the senior management of the Open University, Associate Lecturers and students studying on modules within the curriculum area.
Beth was a student panel member for the Science PQR in November 2019. She talks about her experience, de-mystifies the PQR process and about the importance of students studying on modules in the curriculum area taking the time to meet with the panel.
"The first year that I studied with the Open University, I was entirely alone. I didn’t meet another student, or a tutor, or a staff member… I sat in my room and studied, mentally preparing myself for the next six years of a silent degree. There was nothing wrong with that concept, but something about it just felt hollow to me. So, the second year that I studied with the Open University, I attended every event available to me. I went to every tutorial and student consultation.
I attended the Students Association Conference, which involved staying in Milton Keynes for several days. It was there that I realised that the Open University was this thriving hub of people, people who valued my voice, even when I doubted that my blue haired, disabled, anxious voice was enough. This was my motivation to join the PQR panel in November 2019. I had just started my fourth year of study after switching to a psychology degree, my hair was now pink and I was very fond of my brand new electric wheelchair. I wasn’t sure who would actually want to take my voice seriously but I knew that I was accomplished in being a student, which is exactly why I was there.
I attended the Students Association Conference and it was there that I realised that The Open University was this thriving hub of people, people who valued my voice.
As a student, I think that it is very easy to forget that we are the entire reason that the University exists and continues to strive to improve. It is all very well having wonderfully talented and experienced tutors or a responsive Student Support Team, but if there were no students, who would the staff be there to support? And because of this, we inhabit a unique position in being able to feedback directly about our experience, whether it is the content of our modules or technological issues that we encounter.
This is the reason why students get their own private space to feedback during the PQR process. Students get a chance to sit down (whether in Milton Keynes or via a telephone call) in a group with other students, and tell the panel their honest thoughts about everything to do with The Open University, whilst eating biscuits. These comments are anonymised and then influence the questions that the panel get to ask the staff. As the student panel member, I made sure that even the tiniest throwaway comment was considered, and sometimes found, upon further research, issues that many students were experiencing, as well as the staff!
After the PQR was complete (this also involves interviews with staff members from every area of the University) the panel collates all of their thoughts into a massive document, which includes the things that the department has done well, as well as the things that need to be worked on. If the panel hasn’t managed to find a resolution to the student comments within the staff interviews, those comments will be included in the document which the University has to read and consider. As the student panel member, I made sure that the student comments were included and taken forward, because I knew how valuable each of those voices were, and how nerve-wracking it can be to speak up. Admittedly, it wasn’t a hard fight and the other panel members were all on board, but it definitely feels cool afterwards to consider yourself a champion of students, and I feel like a superhero cape would have been a nice touch.
Student Voice is incredibily important throughout the PQR process, informing every decision that gets made. As the student panel member, I made sure that the student comments were included and taken forward, because I knew how valuable each of those voices were, and how nerve wracking it can be to speak up.
In all honesty, I know that it can be really anxiety-provoking and probably a little inconvenient to take time out of busy lives to meet with the panel as part of a review process. However, it can also be exciting and fulfilling to meet other students and know that your voice is being heard and that you’re speaking up for the students who are too nervous to do it themselves. I know for certain that if timid first year Beth knew that there were students speaking up for her, she would have been a little less overwhelmed and a little more likely to speak up herself. So thank you to any student who chooses to volunteer, and to the staff who listen to us."
If you would like to volunteer to meet with the panel, have your voice heard and affect real change at the Open University, make sure to check here on the Student Voice website and on StudentHome for upcoming PQRs. To be eligible, you will have to be studying a module within the curriculum under review.