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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

4.3: College Review

Purpose and Aims of the College Review Process

1. College Review takes place every six years, with each Council Maintained College of the University (and Independent Colleges by agreement) being asked to reflect holistically on its activity as it relates to the student experience and to the support and welfare of students within an academic community. This is intended to take a strategic overview of these core areas of activity and assure the University of the effectiveness with which the college is undertaking and managing these activities.

2. The following principles underpin College Review:

a. College Review will consider all aspects of a college's activities that support students within the academic community, including the welfare and academic support provided, support for employability and key skills development and the extra-curricular activities provided by and for the student community and facilitated by the college staff and the SCR.

b. College Review will be a peer review process, which involves direct engagement between the review team and the staff and students of the college under review.

c. All review teams will draw directly on expertise gained beyond the University, and consider the internal and external environment within which the college is operating.

d. Wherever possible College Review will use documentation already in existence.

e. Students will be directly involved in this process through a student member of the review team and through direct engagement between the review team and students of the college under review

3. The aims of College Review are to evaluate:

a. The effectiveness with which the college articulates its strategy for the development of the college in relation to the student experience (for all students including UG, PGT and PGR) and its student community.

b. The effectiveness with which the college strategy addresses relevant aspects of the Education Strategy.

c. The college's effectiveness in enhancing the support and opportunities provided to students.

d. The organisation of, and support for, student support and welfare within the college.

e. The effectiveness of the college’s policies and processes for assuring good communication and links with academic departments , central support services, external support services, such as the NHS services, and its student body in relation to student support, for academic and pastoral purposes.

f. The effectiveness of the policies and processes within the college and the Executives of the JCR and MCR (or equivalent) in terms of the opportunities they offer for student representation and extra-curricular activities and the communication with the wider student body and for internal and external marketing.

Membership of the review team

4. Each College Review shall be conducted by a team consisting of:

  • the Pro Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden (Chair)
  • a Deputy Head of Colleges or a College Principal from another college
  • a Head of one of the academic departments of the University [2]
  • a Senior Tutor from another college
  • one external member (preferably with extensive experience of student support)
  • a student member from a college other than the one under review and preferably not an executive member of their own college
  • the head of one of the University's professional support services

No member of the panel should be a member of the college under review.

All internal review team members will receive training in the process organised by the Academic Staff Development Office.

5. The secretary to the review team will be the Assistant Registrar (Colleges and Student Experience) from the Pro Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden's Office.

External members of review teams

The remit of external reviewer

6. The external reviewer is a full member of the review team. All external reviewers will be asked to consider all aspects of the college's activity under review. It is not the intention or expectation that external reviewers be appointed with specific or exclusive remits within the review process.

Criteria for the appointment of external reviewers

7. An external reviewer should:

a. have experience of working with a University other than Durham;

b. A nominated reviewer should be an experienced, practising academic or other suitably qualified and experienced professional in higher education;

8. To avoid conflicts of interest, external reviewers should not:

a. Have been a member of staff or student of the University within the last 5 years;

b. have any other close link.

Appointment of external reviewers

9. External reviewers can be nominated by any members of the University and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden's Office will maintain a list of potential external reviewers.

10. The Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden shall be responsible for appointments of external reviewers.

Frequency and duration of reviews

Frequency of reviews

11. Each college will be subject to College Review once every six years, in accordance with the detailed schedule to be published by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden's Office.

Duration and timing of reviews

12. College Reviews will take place over the course of one day. Reviews will normally take place during undergraduate term time in order to facilitate student involvement in the review process. The dates of individual reviews will be set by the chair and secretary of the review team in consultation with the college to be reviewed. Reviews will normally take place in the late Epiphany Term, early Easter Term or the middle of the Michaelmas Term, in order to ensure that the process supports colleges by linking effectively with the annual planning process (see paragraphs 19-21 below).

13. A tour of the College will not be required unless the estate has changed significantly since the college was reviewed and/or the inspection of a facility is required evidence in support of matters raised in the SED. Therefore, the colleges may be asked to provide a tour, either at a convenient point on the review day or during the day preceding the review day for the benefit of any members of the review team unfamiliar with the college.

Relationship between College Review and the annual planning process

14. College Review has explicitly been designed to link to the annual planning process in a way that supports college. The outcome of the College Review process is a report identifying areas of good practice and areas for further consideration, and colleges are expected to reflect on the issues arising from these areas as part of the annual planning cycle following a College Review.

15. In order to facilitate the links between College Review and the planning process, all College Reviews will take place outside the period when colleges are engaged in developing/revising their strategic plans (January to February). Reviews will take place:

a. either in the middle of the Michaelmas Term with the expectation that the outcomes of the review will inform the College strategic plan developed for submission later the same academic year;

b. or in the second half of the Epiphany Term or first three weeks of the Easter Term with the expectation that the outcomes of the review will inform the College strategic plan developed for submission for submission in the following academic year.

Any issues arising from the College Review with resource implications must be taken forward via the College strategic plan and the planning process; College Review and the follow-up to it have no authority to make decisions in this area.

The review process

16. Colleges to be reviewed shall be informed of this at the start of the academic year prior to the one in which they are to be reviewed, and a meeting will take place between the College to be reviewed and the secretary to the review team (if required) to discuss the nature of the process and begin preparations for the review. This will allow the college to be reviewed to:

a. Start the process of drafting its Self-Evaluation Document for College Review.

b. Obtain support for any aspects of the review with which they are unfamiliar.

c. Finalise the dates for the review.

17. Approximately eight weeks before the date of the review visit the college should provide the secretary to the review team with the documentation requested in paragraph 26 below.

18. No later than seven weeks before the date of the review visit the secretary to the review team will circulate the review documentation to the members of the review team. This will include a guidance note for review teams, which identifies some of the key issues that will be considered by teams during the course of College Reviews.

19. Approximately four weeks before the review visit is due to take place, the review team will meet to consider the documentation supplied and identify key areas for discussion during the review visit and likely areas of good practice. This meeting will use the Guidance note for review teams as a framework for this discussion. Following this meeting the chair and secretary to the review team shall provide brief feedback to the college under review on the key issues identified for further discussion, and request from the college any further documentation that the review team wish to see before or during the review visit.

20. During the course of the review visit, the review team will normally hold meetings with:

a. The college officers.

b. Representative undergraduate students.

c. Representative taught postgraduate students.

d. Representative research postgraduate students.

e. The JCR Executive or equivalent.

f. The MCR Executive or equivalent.

g. Other College staff, if relevant.

h. College mentors (where they exist)

i. Members of the SCR.

Meetings may be amalgamated or sub-divided at the discretion of the review team. Additional meetings may also be held, subject to negotiation between the chair of the review team and the head of house. Meetings with students should contain a cross-section of the student body including representatives from all cohorts, a mix of home and international students, livers-in and livers-out and mature students.

21. At the end of the review visit the review team will provide the college with preliminary oral feedback on some of the key findings of the review team. This feedback shall include an indication of the review team's recommendations.

22. A written report of the main findings and a detailed list of recommendations and commendations will be produced by the team following the review.

Documentation required as part of the review process

23. Prior to each College Review the review team shall be provided with a range of documentation that will allow it to consider the key aspects of activity in the department/school under review. The documentation, and the responsibility for providing it to the review team secretary, shall be as follows:

a. To be supplied by the college under review:

i. A Self-Evaluation Document (of no more than two A4 pages; further guidance on the nature and content of the Self-Evaluation Document will be available), to which the college's latest strategic plan and the latest college profile should be appended.

ii. College policies and documentation on all aspects of provision under review.

iii. College Handbook;

iv. JCR and MCR Handbook(s);

v. The Student Experience data for the previous 3 years and the last college report on the SES for the previous year.

vi. The web address of the college website and that of the JCR and any documentation relating to the development of the sites or marketing of the college in general.

b. To be supplied by the Pro Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden's Office:

i. The report from the previous college review and follow-up received from the college.

24. In addition, where requested, the college should make the following documentation available to the review team during the review visit (wherever possible this documentation should be provided in an electronic format):

a. Minutes of college council meetings and its sub-groups for the last three academic years. (Supporting papers for minutes do not need routinely to be made available, but may be requested as necessary by the review team during the course of the review visit).

b. Access to the duo or web sites used to support the colleges role in all its work.

Self-Evaluation Document

25. All colleges are required to submit a Self-Evaluation Document eight weeks before their College Review is due to take place. The SED should be a brief reflective analysis identifying what the college under review regards as the key issues relating to the student experience that it would like to discuss with the review team during the course of the review.

26. The SED should be no more than two sides of A4, Arial 11 point with 2cm margins.

27. The SED should focus on the student experience as it exists within the college at the time of the review and should omit background information that the review team will be able to find elsewhere as well as issues that are more appropriately considered as part of the strategic plan.

The review report

28. The review report will summarise the judgments of the review team on each of the areas under review. It will include commendations of areas of effective practice, and recommended areas for further consideration and action. The text of the report will provide the context and the rationale for each of these commendations and recommendations. Review teams will make recommendations to the college; they may also make recommendations to either the Colleges' Office or to other Committees or Officers of the University.

29. The review report will be structured into the following sections and sub-sections:

Executive summary

  •  Overview of review

Key summative judgments (including a list of areas of provision found to be at least satisfactory and requiring no further detailed discussion)

  • Headline commendations for the college
  • Headline recommendations for the college
  • Recommendations to the Colleges' Office (to be considered via Colleges' Board)
  • Recommendations to be considered by the Student Experience Sub-Committee

College management and strategy as they pertain to the student experience, support and welfare within the College as a scholarly community

  • Mechanisms for ensuring effective communication relating to the student experience across the management of the college.
  • Mechanisms for ensuring that student support and welfare are represented appropriately in the college strategy and that these are consistent with the University's strategy and relevant aspects of the Education Strategy.

Support and Opportunities (Organisation & Enhancement)

  • Policies for the effective support of students
  • Mechanisms for reflecting, reviewing and enhancing support
  • Mechanism for ensuring effective communication with students
  • Mechanism for ensuring effective communication with departments, central support services and other bodies
  • Mechanisms for facilitating and monitoring student-led activities (including for promoting equality of opportunity)

Communication and Links

  • Mechanism for ensuring effective communication with students for matters not related to support
  • Mechanism for ensuring effective communication with departments, central support services and other bodies
  • Marketing and recruitment activities
  • Mechanisms for acting as link between the wider University and the student body.
  • Opportunities for student engagement in the development and management of the college

 JCR and MCR Executives

  • Mechanism for ensuring student representation within the college
  • The extra-curricular opportunities provided for students and the mechanisms in place to ensure equality of opportunity.
  • Communication with the wider student communication
  • Communication with the college

30. The draft review report will be sent to members of the review team for comment as soon as possible following the review visit, and normally within two weeks, with all members of the review team being given two weeks to return comments to the review secretary. Following this, the agreed draft will be sent to the college only for comment on any factual errors. The college shall return these comments to the review secretary within a further two weeks wherever possible. The final report will be confirmed by the chair of the review team (consulting as appropriate with other members of the review team) and sent to the college for consideration.

Follow up to College Review

31. Once finalised by the Chair of the Review Team the review report will be received by:

a. University Executive Committee members (Executive Summary only) to consider any over-arching strategic issues emerging from the review process.

b. Colleges' Board.

c. College Council and other college sub-groups for information.

d. Student Experience Sub-Committee to consider any recommendations on behalf of Education Committee and any other issues of student experience and support referred to the University by the review team.

33. A written response to the recommendations of the review report will be required from the college 12 months after the report of the review has been issued. Where appropriate, evidence of actions taken should be appended. The Head of House should consult their College Council prior to responding to the report. External members of review teams will be invited to comment on this written response. If a review report has made recommendations with resourcing implications, it is the responsibility of the head of house to take these forward as part of the planning process and report back on progress as part of the 12 month-on submission relating to College Review. The follow-up process to College Review does not have the authority to release resource outside the standard planning process.

34. This written response will be reviewed by the College Periodic Review Panel, the membership of which shall be:

  • the Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden (Chair)
  • 3 members drawn from the Deputy Heads of Colleges and the Senior Tutor (Student Experience)
  • the Secretary of the Review (Secretary)

34a. The College Periodic Review Panel shall consider the College response to the review, and whether further feedback or evidence is required. The Panel shall be responsible for deciding whether the recommendations in the report have been satisfactorily addressed. Once all the recommendations have been addressed the Chair shall report this to UEC and recommend to SESC that the review process be signed-off as complete in respect of the College’s provision. To allow it to make an informed judgement on this recommendation, SESC will receive the review report and details of the college’s response to the recommendations in that report. 


Evaluation of the College Review Process

35. The process will be the subject of ongoing, annual evaluation.

36. Following each College Review members of review teams, and college that have been reviewed, will be asked to complete a brief questionnaire on the process. The Assistant Registrar (Colleges and Student Experience) will be responsible for analysing these responses and making recommendations for revisions to the College Review process in light of the feedback received. These recommendations will be considered by the Colleges' Board for onward transmission to the Student Experience Sub-Committee. The Assistant Registrar (Colleges and Student Experience) will also produce a biennial analysis of the general and strategic issues arising from the review reports for consideration by Student Experience Sub-Committee.


 [2] Either current or recent