How universities are growing and developing their course portfolios

In Education, Growth by Jen Steadman

We’ve previously written about the work that goes into creating a brand new university course. In this piece, we’ll take a look at how universities are growing and developing their already established course portfolios.

This doesn’t necessarily mean adding more courses, but instead refining current offerings and perhaps even reducing the number of courses. Likewise, it may mean adding greater depth to a particular course, or perhaps focusing in more tightly on a niche.

To learn more about how universities are achieving this, we spoke to Dr Catherine Lee, Deputy Dean for Education at Anglia Ruskin University and Dr Mark Skippen, Head of Marketing Intelligence at Swansea University.

The importance of growing course portfolios

The world is ever evolving and universities need to adapt to ensure their students are graduating equipped to handle the challenges of the day. “Universities provide an opportunity for individuals across the world to access a learning experience that enables them to succeed and transform their lives, whilst also making a positive impact on the health, wealth, culture, and well-being of our society. This is only possible if universities continuously review and update their course portfolio to reflect the changing needs of our graduates, employers and society,” says Mark.

“For example, as part of our developments we consider alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; the changing nature of work and jobs for the future against the backdrop of the fourth industrial revolution; and to help future proof our graduates by providing them with the skills to be the next generation of leaders and researchers,” he adds.

In addition, with student recruitment becoming an increasing focus, it makes sense to ensure course portfolios are as appealing as possible. “It’s important that universities respond to market demand and keep their offer current and relevant,” says Catherine.

And it’s not just students that will benefit from this, but future employers too. “In an increasingly competitive sector reviewing and updating course portfolios has become a significant focus for institutions. This effort helps to ensure that degree programmes meet the expectations of students and employers and leads to new opportunities. For example in 2019, Swansea University introduces new undergraduate degree programmes in Sociology and Medical Pharmacology,” says Mark.

How universities are growing their course portfolios

At Anglia Ruskin University there is a focus on innovation and employability. “We combine the best of face-to-face and digital learning in all our courses. We are increasing work-based opportunities and offering activities that enhance academic success and employability. We take great pride in developing and supporting a highly innovative education across all the courses in the university,” says Catherine.

In order to adequately prepare students for the job market, the team at Anglia Ruskin work with employers and professional bodies when developing their course portfolio. “We recognise that it’s really important to ensure our students have the knowledge and skills needed for their future careers. We also work closely with employers and professional bodies when designing new courses to ensure that through our course content and structure, we fully equip our students as our future workforce,” she adds.

Mark shares with us how the quality review process at Swansea University impacts their course offerings: “Swansea University has an integrated quality review process to ensure that for existing programmes the curricula, learning outcomes, structure, teaching, learning and assessment methods remain valid, current and appropriate in the light of external subject standards, latest academic and pedagogic research and practise and the UK Quality Code for Higher Education, and deliver the student experience expected.”

Both students and employers are considered and Mark explains how this has impacted some of the recent changes and additions to the course portfolio at Swansea University. “We are continuously seeking to ensure that our degree programme portfolio is relevant to prospective students and employers alike, which has recently led to the introduction of more programmes with a year in industry component and our new undergraduate degrees in Sociology and Medical Pharmacology,” he says.

Evaluating and improving courses

Catherine shares with us how courses are evaluated and improved upon at Anglia Ruskin University:

“There is a close and effective partnership between the University and the Students’ Union co-designing and delivering change to meet the needs of our diverse student body. Students are represented at every level of decision making. There are a number of ways in which we evaluate our courses. These include:

  • A year 1 health check for all new courses, to monitor the student experience and student attainment.
  • A module evaluation form at the end of each module
  • Final year course evaluation, e.g. the National Student Survey (NSS) for undergraduates and the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) for Masters students.

The results of all the data collected are monitored closely and student feedback is used to inform improvements and future course developments.”

And Mark outlines the process for how courses are evaluated and improved upon at Swansea University, resulting in a ‘culture of continuous enhancement’:

“Our Annual Programme Review and Quality Review processes takes into account all aspects which drive or impact upon the student experience, including learning, teaching and assessment; research performance and its interface with teaching; departmental culture and practice; and other quality assurance information (such as Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body engagement), and seek to drive a culture of continuous enhancement. We undertake market research with prospective students, current students, and future employers of our graduates to help inform decisions me make with programme development.”

In conclusion…

In order to remain relevant and equip students with the skills needed for success, university courses must be developed and appropriately grown. Instead of simply adding more courses, there is a case to be made for focusing on quality rather than quantity. While this may not look like traditional growth – course numbers could even be reduced – it will result in students who graduate confident they can tackle the problems of the modern world. And in our books, that’s definitely growth!