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Over the last few academic years, there has been a university-wide commitment to improving our National Student Survey (NSS) results. This led to an improved NSS position in 2022. Our improvement was the biggest in the Russell Group and our competitor group in terms of overall weighted mean (KPI) and specifically in terms of the assessment and feedback measure. There has been excellent progress and thanks go to the many academic and Professional Services colleagues for their commitment to improving our performance. We wanted to see this improvement continue, especially regarding assessment and feedback which is critical to our student community. For this reason, in 2022/2023, we were committed to identifying smart interventions that would enable us to improve our assessment and feedback scores still more, particularly given we remain behind our 2020 position. The NSS Gold Assessment and Feedback Project provided a vehicle for these ambitions. It was a product of discussions taking place in the Education and Student Experience Executive Committee (EdSEECeec), NSS Gold, Education Leadership Team (ELT) and other fora, and recommendations contained within a discussion paper written by Professor Rob Freathy, Dean for Taught Students. University of Exeter staff can download and read the project report and its appendices.

This project was led by Kelly-Louise Preece, Head of Educator Development, with support from Dr. Eleanor Hodgson, Senior Educator Developer and input from the rest of the Educator Development team.

The first phase of the Assessment Reimagined project, led by Oli Young (Associate Dean for Taught Students) and Dr Eleanor Hodgson (Senior Academic Developer), took place between March and August 2022. 

Driven by key institutional priorities identified in the current University of Exeter Education Strategy, Exeter’s Strategy 2030, the Student Experience Framework, and analysis of NSS results from the academic year 2020-2021, this project aims to explore and enhance assessment practices at the university, supporting staff to develop inclusive, robust, and appropriate assessment and feedback for their learners. 

The first phase of the project sought to: 

  • learn from recent developments and research across the national and international Higher Education sector, particularly in response to changes in assessment practice implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic 
  • understand how assessment practice at Exeter is evolving, including ‘innovative’ assessment practices and tools 
  • harness expertise and best practice within the institution in relation to assessment, with a particular focus on inclusive, authentic, and sustainable assessment 
  • identify barriers to implementing and further developing assessment practice at Exeter, and recommend actions to overcome these challenges 

University of Exeter staff can access the Assessment Reimagined Phrase 1 Report.

Transformative Education at the University of Exeter

Our purpose as a University is “To use the power of education and research to create a sustainable, healthy and socially just future” (University Strategy 2030). Through the Transformative Education Framework, we will use the power of education to transform our students’ lives so that they, in turn, can transform the world. We introduced this education innovation in 2021 as part of the implementation of the Success for All Strategy.

The Transformative Education Framework will:

• Enable all students to see the challenges associated with the climate emergency, inequality and social injustice in their fields of study;
• Promote the application of critical thinking skills in learning generally, and research-inspired, inquiry-led learning contexts specifically, with an aim to innovate and improve current approaches to education and address challenges facing our society;
• Foster collaboration with peers and educators, drawing on the strength of our community’s diversity of experiences and areas of expertise;
• Create a learning environment that fosters a culture of compassion and promotes respect by embedding inclusivity and cultural competence.

Through these actions, we will enable students and educators alike to apply their knowledge to create a sustainable, healthy and socially just future.

The Transformative Education Framework aims to ensure that:

• All our students and staff feel welcomed and valued;
• Our university community collectively examines and, where necessary, challenges established and traditional approaches to assessment that have, alongside other inequalities, led to awarding gaps;
• Inclusive language and practices are used in all teaching and learning contexts;
• Students are provided with adequate support for achieving good mental health and wellbeing;
• Forward-looking, sustainable approaches are promoted to uphold peace, good health and prosperity for all global citizens and the planet on which we live.

If you are a member of staff and would like further information, resources and invites to seminars these can be found on our Transformative Education SharePoint

Colleagues across the sector can download Transformative Education Framework Curriculum Enhancement tool presented by Professor Vrinda Nayak and Sean Porter at AdvanceHE's Sustainability Symposium.

If you have any queries about the Transformative Education Project, please send an email to

The Inclusive Education Project is driven by key inclusion priorities in our current Education Strategy, Strategy 2030, and Transformative Education Framework. The Project was established to review our current ILP provision, survey best practice in other HEIs, and explore the potential for Universal Design for Learning to improve provision for our disabled students, particularly those who do not come forward for formal support. Areas of work for the first two phases of the project include:

  1. Complete an audit of the currently recommended reasonable adjustments for students with ILPs to check their suitability for embedding into the curriculum and day to day teaching activities.
  2. Create resources and staff training for embedding suitable reasonable adjustments into the curriculum and teaching practices. 
  3. Identify the issues that act as barriers to implementation of recommended reasonable adjustments by staff members and implement interventions that facilitate effective collaboration between the central Wellbeing and Welfare teams and the education teams at programme level.
  4. Collect and analyse the data on disclosure of disability and access to student support services by international students, to understand their needs and encourage them to come forward.
  5. Create resources on neurodiversity and supporting neurodiverse students for staff members.

A report will shortly be available, presenting the work done in Phase 1, which aimed to address items 1 and 3, and drive forward items 2 and 5.  Work on item 4 is a standalone project, due to commence in September 2023.

The Educator Development team have been supporting leadership with our institutional response to the impact of generative AI on education. This has included:

The Student Academic Support (SAS) Project, led by Professor Nicky King (Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor (APVCE) Education - Faculty of (ESE)) and Professor Adam Watt (Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of (HASS)) is implementing a new model for proactive, data-informed and digitally enabled student academic and pastoral support. 

The objective of the SAS Project is to implement changes in practice that can:  

  • Improve and reduce variability of the student experience of academic support.​ 
  • Improve outcomes for all students, including under-represented, disadvantaged, and international students. 

Inception (2022/23):

Initially, the SAS Task and Finish Group (SAS T&FG) was stood up in March 2023 to consider our holistic institutional approach to end-to-end student academic support. The Education Student Experience Executive Committee (EdSEEC), chaired by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Education and Student Experience, and the University Executive Board (UEB), chaired by the Vice Chancellor, approved the final recommendations of the SAS T&FG in July 2023 including the implementation of a rapid development pilot for Pastoral Mentors.

To inform and shape its recommendations, the Project Team and T&FG considered the findings from previous reviews of personal academic tutoring, feedback from academic and professional services staff and students, and best practice from other institutions in the UK and internationally. 

Current progress (2023/24):

The SAS Project Group was stood up (and the SAS T&FG stood down) to take forward implementation from 2023/24, which began with the successful implementation of a pilot for Pastoral Mentors in Physics and HASS Cornwall (Phase 1: October 2023-March 2024). The SAS Project has now moved into rollout.

Leading up to and as part of Phase 1, the following infographic was also created to help students from Cornwall and Exeter know where to go to get support, both from personally and academically/professionally: SAS Signposting Infographic.

A further three Departments will gain Pastoral Mentors during 2023/24 - Engineering, Psychology and Law (Phase 2: April-July 2024).

The Project is currently working on activities across four main workstreams:

1)      Pastoral Mentors: Piloting, and now rolling out, a proactive approach to student academic and pastoral support through the introduction of Pastoral Mentors embedded in Departments. Find out more about the role of the Pastoral Mentor below.

2)     “Data First” Solution: Piloting student engagement data reporting, dashboards, and associated thresholds for engagement across Departments.

3)     “Digital First” Solution: Piloting institutional-level digital solutions to filter and answer simple queries and consolidate online information.

4)    Academic Tutors: Piloting different Discipline-led models for student academic support.

Beyond 2023/24:

The SAS Project Group has worked with Faculties and Departments to agree on the phased rollout to all University Departments by September 2025:

-        Phase 3: August 2024,

-        Phase 4: February 2025,

-        and Phase 5: September 2025.

What are Pastoral Mentors?

Pastoral Mentors are a point of contact for students who are facing challenges that impact their ability to study and be successful in their programme. They are also a point of contact for Personal Tutors (also known as Academic Tutors) and provide end-to-end support for student queries, including signposting to expert services as required.

The expectations of the Pastoral Mentor role are being developed and led centrally to ensure consistency of experience but will be implemented in liaison with colleagues in the Departments to ensure that the support is adapted as appropriate to academic Departments and programmes. ​  


Collaboration and co-creation:

All Departments will have dedicated Pastoral Mentor support by September 2025. We are committed to ensuring that the agile approach to the phased rollout of Pastoral Mentors and the wider SAS Project is both collaborative and co-created through regular engagement with Departments and ongoing evaluation to help iterate and improve as we implement.


Benefits and success measures for the pilot include: 

  • Pastoral Mentors proactively and consistently reach out to students to offer academic and pastoral support.
  • Academic and professional services staff work collaboratively with Pastoral Mentors to support students.
  • Students receive and/or are signposted to academic and pastoral support that allows them to progress in their studies.
  • Students report increased satisfaction and reduced variability with their experience of academic support.
  • Departments report increased student engagement, a reduction in non-continuation / withdrawal rates and improvement in student outcomes (with a focus on under-represented, disadvantaged, and international students).

 How to find out more:

We encourage Departments to reach out if they have any questions about the implementation of Pastoral Mentors, and the wider SAS project and would encourage you to visit the SAS SharePoint.

We also welcome all feedback, as this will help us to evaluate and evolve our student support model in a co-created and collaborative way.