The Importance of Student Experience

Published: 4 October 2016 at 12:01

Phillipa Towlson

It's fairly clear what a good university can hope to offer to its students, but what benefits can they bring to the university? When you're looking to train the next generation of business leaders and managers, the eager young minds passing through the doors are a valuable untapped resource all of their own.

That's one of the new approaches taken at the LAIBS at Anglia Ruskin University, which has looked at new ways to make the most of its students' unique insights.

As well as placements in industry, a new scheme is giving its students the chance to make a difference closer to home, with the launch of a new intern programme.
Working in small groups, the interns are given the chance to complete real-world projects for the business school, under the watchful eye of Dr Phillipa Towlson, the school's head of operations and administration.

She told the News : "They are tasked with engaging with internal projects to support the faculty, as part of an in-house project from which they can build experience and expertise."

As well as a willing and agile workforce, the students, who are fully renumerated for their efforts, gain direct experience of high-pressure professional work.

Dr Towlson added: "Recently I worked with a group of interns who worked through clearing.

"There were five or six individuals who worked for three or four weeks, and were responsible for calling prospective applicants and having conversations with them, explaining the benefits of coming to study with us.

"This is all about the student voice, and they were acting as my sales staff, learning the skills around communication how to package and process information.

"But for me this was also a key project in our recruitment activities."

The intern scheme is just one of a number of innovative projects put forward by Dr Towlson, who joined the LAIBS seven years ago, and leads all its non-academic systems and practices, as well as developing new initiatives to support its students and staff.

A biologist by trade, she joined the university from a Cambridge management consultancy, after completing her MBA through the Open University.

A fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), she was also instrumental in a new partnership between it and the university.

She said: "Two to three years ago we started a conversation about how we could work more closely with them, with a view to accrediting our degrees.

"Students undertake the business management undergraduate course, but at the same time they will achieve professional management qualifications, accredited by the CMI.

"They also have access to additional services; career development support, advice on employability skills and access to a huge range of jobs through the CMI jobs portal."

The student experience has always been at the forefront for the LAIBS, which means its leaders must be quick to react to changing student needs.

Student feedback around the submission of physical paper assignments led it to roll out the introduction of a purely online assessment procedure, something which has now been taken up right across the university.

"Printing out 400 assessments probably isn't the best way to go, but more importantly it's respecting the needs of the students," said Dr Towlson.

"We also have a commitment to inclusivity and accessible learning making sure all of our students, regardless of specific requirements, have the same access.

"We are dealing with adults, and leaders and managers of the future, and there needs to be a level of higher order learning going on.

"Because the feedback is so good from our students and academic staff, other departments are looking at what is appropriate for their work."

The results of these small, student-focused changes are already being seen, with the university recently named the joint-38th best in the UK by Times Higher Education.

Dr Towlson said: "We have aspirations to improve our standing in various league tables – there's no reason we can't be top 20, I know we will not limit our aspirations."

It's this same flexibility and adaptability that makes her confident the school will weather one of the biggest challenges facing British universities – the impact of the EU Referendum.

She said: "In terms of how that plays out we don't know, nobody knows!

"But we will always be an international business school because business leaders and managers need to operate in a whole range of environments.

"We will work in whatever parameters we are put in, we continue to be open for business, and continue to embrace not only European and international staff but students as well – they add to the richness and diversity of our activity."

This article first appeared in Cambridge News, 04 October 2016