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Student led research projects

Professor Craig Williams explains how students are involved with leading research projects in Sport and Health Sciences.

Teaching Quality

About our teaching quality

About our teaching quality

As a research-led university, Exeter is committed to promoting the synergies between research and education. We recognise that an understanding of research and the creation of knowledge are increasingly important in today’s knowledge-based economies.

Blending research and teaching activities

Professor Nick Talbot on the synergy between research and teaching at the University of Exeter

The University of Exeter’s Strategy (2016-20) has a distinctive vision for teaching excellence to "deliver an internationally excellent education".

“We want our graduates to stand out from the crowd and be among the best in the world. We are creating an internationally excellent education, which gives our talented students the ability to go on to make a difference in the world. To become graduates of real distinction we must stretch, challenge and engage with our students”

Our teaching stimulates and challenges our students, while motivating them as independent learners and critical thinkers. This is achieved by mobilising our best researchers to share learning with students, and providing opportunities for students to engage directly with our global research.

Our students are inspired and challenged by academic experts who teach them, their world-leading research and their scholarly engagement with pedagogy. Students experience a diverse range of learning environments including seminars, laboratory practicals, flipped classrooms, performance spaces, field study, lectures, problem-based learning and independent research. This is further enriched by teaching delivered by business, industry and professional experts and by postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers.

Involving students in research

Dr Paul James on the value of engaging students with research

Read more about our research-inspired teaching and high-quality student experience below:

The University, Students’ Guild and FXU share a clear commitment to ensuring that academic representation is student-led. In addition to sabbatical officers, students elect 570 student representatives, including 58 Subject Chairs and 6 College Officers. Representatives are fully trained to undertake their roles and, in 2015/16, students chaired 247 Student-Staff Liaison Committees (SSLCs). SSLC minutes and updates from student representatives are published on webpages hosted by the two Students’ Unions.

Students are encouraged to give feedback to their lecturers both during and after modules, by using Accelerate.

Through discussions about modules, students and lecturers work together to deal with issues. Students can raise any concerns they have with teaching and assessment or ask questions about course materials, all in one central space which is accessible from a mobile device.

Find out more.

The Annual Student Experience Review (ASER) pulls together discipline-level data relating to:

  • external examiner reports
  • student attainment
  • Accelerate surveys
  • peer dialogue outputs
  • NSS and DLHE surveys

Student representation feeds into the Annual Student Experience Review which aims to ensure success for all our students by taking into account age, ethnicity and social background when analysing performance and outcomes. This information is then added into action plans.‌

The  project has been developed in collaboration with students.  Using sophisticated student dashboards delivered through the University smartphone app, iExeter, students can track and monitor their own progress and development. Academic tutors and support services have a valuable decision-support tool to target extra support to those who need it most.

The project team is also undertaking academic research using this data in order to better understand what drives success for our students. We are committed to ensuring that our disadvantaged and/or under-represented students are given the support they need to succeed. The ultimate goal will be the development of dynamic, personalised, adaptive learning systems. 

Find out more.

The institution-wide commitment to excellence in teaching and learning is embedded within University Strategy, distinctive student-led initiatives and the contribution to teaching made by staff. Probationary lecturers must complete the University’s Postgraduate Certificate of Academic Practice (PCAP) which brings Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.

The HEA-accredited Accrediting Staff Professionalism in Research-Led Education (ASPIRE) Framework, maps on to the UK Professional Standards Framework and accords recognition across the levels of Associate Fellowship, Fellowship, Senior Fellowship and Principal Fellowship. Since the launch of ASPIRE, over 1,000 fellowships have been awarded including 83 Senior and 13 Principal Fellowships. The latter two groups also go on to support the development of colleagues, through mentoring and engagement in ASPIRE events.

We strive to ensure that feedback provided to students is effective and of high quality. Following a sustained focus on assessment and feedback we made significant changes. These included:

  • a commitment to providing feedback within three weeks;
  • systematic consideration of the spread of different types of assessment across programmes;
  • minimising the bunching of assessments for students;
  • promoting online marking;
  • improving communications with students about marking criteria and assessment policies.

Best practice includes helping students to understand and, where appropriate, interrogate assessment methods and criteria. Within the College of Humanities, for example, some modules include formative and summative assessments that involve students in reviewing both their peers’ work and staff members’ pre-published writing. This has enabled students to experience the ‘assessor's’ worldview and think about what good and constructive feedback involves. In a Sports and Health Sciences SACA project, students demystified the marking process by working with academic staff to produce a YouTube video “The journey of my assessment”. The video shows the students the steps and time needed to ensure a fair grade.

We are taking part in two employability-related Learning Gain projects, which aim to measure the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development made by students during their time at university. These are particularly important in supporting disadvantaged students and identifying those at risk of not fulfilling their potential:

Career Registration

At the point of registration all students begin to map their progression against career development milestones to assess their ‘career readiness’. In 2016 more than 20,000 students reflected on their career planning status. This self-assessment is now being used to offer personalised support to students deemed to be most at risk of unemployment or underemployment.

Find out more.

Learning and Employability Gain Assessment Community (LEGACY)

As part of the LEGACY Project Consortium, we are involved in two projects. The first of these is University of Cambridge-led development of a new instrument to measure learning gain, which will inform the continuing development of our effective learner analytics tool. The second is the 'International Experience and Employability', which measures the impact of international experiences on a student’s employability.‌

The Mirror Scheme is a shadowing initiative which pairs students with staff, including the Vice- Chancellor, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education).

The Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Steve Smith, shadowed student Anna Collin as part of the Mirror scheme.

The scheme fosters understanding, deepens collaboration and has brought about positive change. In the last two years more than 140 students and staff have taken part.

Exeter is part of a consortium of leading UK universities that offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) through the FutureLearn platform.

More than 100,000 learners from over 105 countries have enrolled on our research-inspired inquiry-led courses. These influence new curriculum design for our on-campus taught programmes, with 'flipped classroom' models adopted within Geography and History and a blended curriculum design for a new MSc Genomics in the Medical School.

The University provides a number of research-based opportunities for student learning throughout their programmes. The annual Research Uncovered lecture series is a student-led initiative designed to bring the University’s most engaging research to a wider student audience. In 2015/16, 245 nominations were received and 6 open lectures were selected including: "Beyond the Glass Ceiling: the glass cliff and the precariousness of women's leadership" (Prof Michelle Ryan); and "The History of Sexuality" (Dr Sebastian Matzner). In the same year, 100 students took part in our growing 'Research Internship' programme, gaining valuable employment and research experience as paid members of research teams, as well as becoming co-creators of research by working alongside professional researchers.

Prof. Michelle Ryan spoke on "Beyond the Glass Ceiling: the glass cliff and the precariousness of women's leadership

The University’s Education Strategy has a distinctive approach to Research-Inspired Inquiry-Led Learning and Discovery (RIILLD).

Bauhaus performance

First year drama students explored the stage work of the Bauhaus in 1920s Germany with Prof Cathy Turner. Their performance, based on Bauhaus principles, gave Prof Turner new insights that she presented with a video of the student performance at the Prague Quadrennial.


Teams of students from the Colleges of Life and Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences collaborated under the guidance of leading synthetic biologists (Prof John Love, Dr Paul James and Dr Chloe Singleton) to win Gold medals at the iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation) ‘Grand Jamboree’ in 2014-16. This educates the next generation of scientists and develops greater understanding of synthetic biology;

Find out more.

Politics of Protest

In Prof. Claire Saunders’ ‘The Politics of Protest’ module on the Penryn Campus, second year students directly contribute data to the pan-European ‘Caught in the Act of Protest’ project. Students’ in-class study of social movement theory and the methodologies for its investigation is enriched through learning about and engaging in protest surveys and face-to-face interviews. Their exploration of hypothesis definition, survey design and data collection creates deeper understanding of both the politics of protest and the underpinning social science methods.

Sports & Health Sciences

Knowledge generated within Sports & Health Sciences is brought into the student learning experience. Prof Craig Williams explains how students are involved with leading research projects:

Students as Change Agents is an innovative, student-led programme. It supports students in developing and leading research projects designed to effect change in their programmes and explore the impact of their learning.

The several hundred projects have included:

  • student-run careers and module fairs;
  • a buddy scheme for year-abroad students;
  • resources for mental health;
  • support for international students;
  • improved delivery of seminar teaching

The Teaching Awards, initiated by the Exeter Students’ Guild in 2009, are now managed by the Guild in collaboration with FXU and are a vital aspect of our student-staff partnership. Award categories include the most supportive staff member, best research-inspired and innovative teaching, and best lecturer and employability support.

The Teaching Awards Photo: Students’ Guild

Since the Awards began, our students have written more than 1.3 million words in 13,700 nominations. After the ceremony, the commendations are sent to the nominees and their heads of discipline and often result in other recognition including bonus-payments through our ‘Above and Beyond’ scheme. Award winners and nominees are also invited to speak at the Education Conference and similar initiatives.