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#Project5 Focus Group Analysis

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As part of the five-year development plan for ARU London Students’ Union; #Project5, we facilitated a number of student focus groups to delve a little deeper into the motivations and priorities of our members.

During the week of 16th – 20th November 2020, we held three hour-long focus groups with 15 students attending across the sessions. They were chaired by the Vice President on two occasions and the ARU London Manager on one occasion. The focus groups were recorded and transcribed with the permission of all participants. All students who attended have received a £15 Amazon voucher as a thank you for their involvement.

With no opinion or leading questions from the facilitators or the chair, we asked students the following questions;

  1. Why did you choose to study at ARU London?

With an optional follow up: why are you studying in general?

  1. Thinking about all the services and support you can currently access at ARU London, what do you think is missing?

With an optional follow up: what do you think can be improved?

  1. What comes to mind when you think of a ‘Students’ Union’?

With an optional follow up: does the name ‘Students’ Union’ make sense?

  1. If I said the term “student representation”, what would that mean to you?

With an optional follow up: what do you think this should look like at ARU London?

  1. If the Students’ Union received an additional £1 million, what should we spend it on?

With an optional follow up: what if we lost our funding, what should we fight to keep?
 

Themes and comments from each question
 

1. Why did you choose to study at ARU London?

We asked this question to get a sense of the motivations behind our students. We wanted to know what it was about ARU London specifically that drew them in. There was a wide variety of answers including the cost, the course content, the ease of acceptance and the chance to start a new chapter. The most common themes were location and diversity, the University’s reputation, employability development and referrals from friends, family and career advisers. Overall the tone of this conversation was very positive with students also retrospectively pleased with that initial decision.


“I actually discovered myself that a wide range of tutors with backgrounds in business professionals, which is really helpful for students that actually they don’t want to just listen to theory but have people with experience in that kind of modules that can tell you how the business works.”

“I came to ARU London because it was a small, diverse community rather than a massive university with loads of students.”

“It was really highly recommended for employability possibilities.”

“I saw one of your campuses and it looked great, I mean the image is very important.”


How could this affect our five-year plan?

  • Activity: Ensuring employability is at the heart of our extra/co-curricular activity.
  • Our brand: Being loud and proud about being in the diverse City of London.
     

2. Thinking about all the services and support you can currently access at ARU London, what do you think is missing?

We wanted to establish any gaps students had noticed in their university experience to see if there was anything we could prioritise as a Students’ Union. Whether this would form or influence the strategic goals of our five-year plan or if it was something we should be focussing on in terms of our future campaigning work. The responses from all three focus groups seemed to be very similar, with the key themes of communication, support, facilities and employability.

Communication focussed around lack of awareness of the different services available to students and a high number of the group did not know who their personal tutors were; something we can act upon immediately. Support services that they felt were lacking were primarily mental health & wellbeing and English language & academic support. Facilities are a common area of feedback from ARU London students, and this was highlighted again through disappointment primarily with the library. Finally, in terms of employability, whilst students were very positive about this on the whole, they felt there was a lack of practical job-specific opportunities such as job fairs and placements.


“The lack of facility in ARU London is specifically, it's not as expected because if I were to put £9,250 with another university for example they give you more facilities than I personally experienced”

“I think our library online and physical is really lacking… the current module I'm studying we have been given a reading list of about 15 books and 80% of those books are available only physically in Cambridge or Chelmsford.”

“More information should be available easily, without having to dig through all the different boxes.”

“I think these business fairs and employability meetings and stuff need to be increased a little bit more in order to help students get more a clear an idea of what career they want to pursue.”

“I still don't know my personal tutor, I still don’t know who's my personal tutor and I'm in my third year.”


How could this affect our five-year plan?

  • Partnership: Ensuring an effective partnership with ARU London to promote the different opportunities for support, including both academic and welfare services.
  • Facilities: Both investing in our own facilities and working closely with our student representatives to ensure direct feedback and action groups are in place with ARU London.



 

3. What comes to mind when you think of a ‘Students’ Union’?

Without feeling limited by their current experience of a Students’ Union, we wanted to find out what their expectations would be in general. What are we doing right? But what are we missing? Students across the focus groups gave very similar opinions on this, all fitting within the theme of support and the Union being their voice.
 

“When I think of a student union I think of a guild or an organisation that actually helps students in different subjects, much more like social, cultural matters to give support to students in all of the part of the student life through university, so to be an integrated part of the student life.”

“But the name [Students’ Union] in my opinion straight away is support, problem, solution.”

“It's like a trade union, I get myself into trouble and you are the one who would support me impartially and guide me through the tunnel to the light again.”

“One side is the studying and the university should support you in that area, and maybe the student union makes sure we are ready, with the university, for the outside world, what's waiting for us. I think that's a big thing.”

“It's not like they're not campaigning, they are campaigning but I reckon there's something lacking, either enthusiasm or some sort of communication that is lacking from that.”


How could this affect our five-year plan?

  • Student voice: Further developing our representation structures to have greater relevance to our student body through the introduction of site-specific Vice Presidents.
  • Employability: To embed employability in the heart of our priorities to prepare students for life after university.
  • Support: Increasing our Advice offering to ensure a focus of well-being and 1-1 support.
  • Tone of voice: To empower our student body through passionate and direct language around our campaigning work.
     

4. If I said the term “student representation”, what would that mean to you?

Representation is a core aspect of the Students’ Union, so we wanted to find out what this meant to our students. Do they understand how this applies to them? Is there something they associate with representation that we are currently missing? The common theme across the groups was having someone fighting for your rights and following up on feedback and issues raised. It was noted that the new representation structure which we introduced this year was positive and a step in the right direction. Students appreciated a clear pathway for their feedback with direct and honest responses.


“I think when you hear representation you have the feeling like someone is fighting for your rights if it's needed.”

“I'm thinking now about the structure, I've got it right in front of me like a hierarchy if you like. I like what you’ve done this year, that we've got class reps, and above the class rep is the course champion which makes it obviously easier for all of the parties.”

“It's the link isn't it, it's like a chain and it should go around and connect all of the bits and pieces, and to have the same vision and objective to achieve.”

“Like you, you're the vice president and someone who can approach you and say, 'Hey, sorry, I'm struggling with this, is there any way you can take this problem on,' and then you turn around and say, 'Of course I can,' rather than me having to everyone in the faculty you just take it on”


How could this affect our five-year plan?

  • Representation: Having a solid focus on our student representation structures to develop strong and effective mechanisms for students to feedback.
  • Closing the loop: Embedding a ‘closing the loop’ message throughout our goals, ensuring this is filtered down through our elections, training and campaigning.
     

5. If the Students’ Union received an additional £1 million, what should we spend it on?

A take on the classic blue sky thinking, “if money was no object…” we wanted to find out what would be the first thing that came to mind for our students. The most common response was improvements to the library which is in line with much of the feedback the University currently receives. Second to this was the development of wellbeing support, cultural awareness and rewards/scholarships for students. Throughout this discussion there was also a general theme of wanting more practical employability based opportunities such as Dragon’s Dens, internships and networking.


“I'm really focused on this professional experience for students which I think is really, really helpful, because in order to understand the theory, you need a lot of practice to understand it.”

“Increase placements and internship experiences.”

“Spend money for the library, the accessibility, the canteen and facilities for all the students, that's it.”

“If I'm not settled in my wellbeing, I cannot focus studying, so I think 1 of the things should be the wellbeing hub. Whereby people can go, relax, or maybe when they're having issues, they can go to the wobble rooms. You go and see them, you relax yourself and reflect and then if there is support available from other staff members who are trained, to improve people's wellbeing.”

“There have been some employability sessions with guest speakers, so in that sense as well, and perhaps in the sense of offering a bit more academic support if that makes any sense.”


How could this affect our five-year plan?

  • Student employment: Introducing student staff positions and/or internships to give our members opportunities to develop hard employable skills.
  • Welfare: Investing in a new advice role to work alongside the ARU London Wellbeing Team to directly refer and advise students in need of extra welfare support.
  • Facilities: Whilst difficult to include this directly within our 5 year goals, it’s clearly a big priority for our students so ensuring this remains a focus of our campaigning and feedback gathering is important.
     

Headlines moving forwards;

The following are the key points we will be using in our future development of our 5 year plan.

  • Representation – empowering, campaigning and feeding back
  • Support – through the University and our own Advice Service provisions
  • Employability – giving students the practical skills they want through employment
  • Communication – being loud, passionate, clear and relevant

There was real value in holding these focus groups. They both confirmed our current research was heading in the right direction but also gave us some important areas to prioritise.

We are grateful to those who took part in this research.

For more information please see www.angliastudent.com/london/5


Megan Bennett

ARU London Manager

Students’ Union

 

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