The description of the undergraduate degree programmes given by the University of Leeds’ Institute of Communications Studies (ICS) on its website page ICS Undergraduate Programmes is inaccurate and misleading over the standing of its courses and the implied quality of the student experience.
Contrary to the portrayal given by the University, Unistats compiled official data and Key Information Set (KIS) student satisfaction scores for these degree programmes suggest they may be of a less than an acceptable standard of quality and subject to systemic problems.
Inaccurate and misleading information
The University’s online description states:1,2
The Institute of Communications Studies (ICS) is one of the largest teaching and research institutes of its kind in Britain. Situated within the Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications (PVAC), we are part of the Arts and Humanities provision at the University of Leeds. Leeds is ranked among the top 50 universities in the world by the Times Higher Education World University rankings for the quality of its teaching and research in these subject areas.
The given underlying hyperlink address, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2011-12/subject-ranking/subject/arts-and-humanities, is a reference to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for Arts and Humanities for 2011-12, where Leeds was ranked joint 48th.
The University’s claim that Leeds is ranked among the World top 50 universities for Arts and Humanities is untrue and has been so since the release of revised rankings on or about 4 October 2012. These current 2012-13 THE Rankings reveal that Leeds University is no longer a World top 50 university for Arts and Humanities, while its undisclosed overall standing has slipped from 133 (2011-12) to 142 (2012-13).3
While Arts and Humanities at Leeds were once highly rated as a subject area, the particular courses offered by the Institute of Communications Studies were never necessarily of the indicated excellent quality and the present KIS satisfaction scores for the Institute’s four undergraduate degree programmes4 do not appear to support a student experience that could reasonably be described as world-class.5
The proportions of students expressing overall satisfaction with the quality of the Institute’s four undergraduate degree courses are 74%, 61%, 85% and 79% for an average, allowing for the number of students on each course who completed the National Student Survey (NSS), the basis of the KIS figures, of 75%. By way of contrast, the HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) reports that 85% of students who took the National Student Survey of 2012 said they were satisfied overall with their course.
The University has not supplied realistic information. Its presentation of the Institute of Communications Studies undergraduate degree programmes as being of top quality in ways that matter to a potential undergraduate student is undermined by the assessed student experience.
Student experience and possible systemic problems
The table below compares Institute of Communications Studies undergraduate degree courses over matters that are a particular cause for concern. The numbers of students giving feedback and the satisfaction with the Students’ Union figures provide context.
|Institute of Communications Studies undergraduate degrees compared||Broadcast Journalism||Cinema and Photography||Communications and Media||New Media||Weighted Mean|
|Number of students giving feedback||30||30||35||30||31|
|Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course||74%||61%||85%||79%||75%|
|The course is well organised and is running smoothly||58%||61%||82%||71%||69%|
|The course is intellectually stimulating||68%||79%||85%||68%||75%|
|I have received detailed comments on my work||77%||57%||82%||64%||70%|
|Feedback on my work has helped me clarify things I did not understand||68%||39%||61%||54%||56%|
|1st class degree||0%||10%||10%||15%||N/A|
|Upper 2nd class degree||75%||80%||75%||55%||N/A|
|Lower 2nd class degree||20%||10%||15%||15%||N/A|
|I am satisfied with the Students’ Union at my institution||90%||90%||90%||90%||90%|
- The generally higher figures on the Communications and Media course lift the weighted averages.
- A quarter of students did not express overall satisfaction with the quality of their course.
- Almost a third of students did not rate their course as well organised and running smoothly.
- A quarter of students did not rate their course as intellectually stimulating.
- While 70% of students report receiving detailed comments on their work less than 60% of students found the feedback given helped to clarify things they did not understand.
- Satisfaction with the Students’ Union is consistently high at 90% across all degree programmes. The consistency in this degree course independent figure suggests the differences in satisfaction across the courses are noteworthy.
- The Cinema and Photography course stands out for its overall satisfaction and work feedback scores, with just 6 out of 10 students saying they were satisfied overall with the quality of the course and only 4 out of 10 finding that feedback on their work helped to clarify things they didn’t understand.
- The number of students who gave their opinion on the Broadcast Journalism course was 30 yet no student was awarded a first class degree. The number of first class degrees awarded on the other undergraduate courses is also low by comparison with reported national figures.
The evidence appears to show that the undergraduate degree provision of the Institute of Communications Studies neither meets the reasonable expectations of a student nor is of a sufficiently high quality. The significant lack of satisfaction shown over general quality, organisation, intellectual stimulation and academic feedback may be signalling systemic problems. The low academic feedback scores are perhaps a cause for specific concern because useful feedback is vital for optimum academic progress and the achievement of maximum potential.
Russell Group expectations and standards
“If there is demand from some students for a fee-only option, then it’s an idea that should be explored. However, £5,000 may not be enough to offer a high-quality degree. For Russell Group universities, which are committed to providing a world-class research-led learning experience, it would be impossible.”
The Director General does not detail what a ‘high-quality degree’ and ‘a world-class research-led learning experience’ offers or means to the student but one assumes that the Russell Group is able to support such commitments with a coherent definition of the particular requirements and standards to be met by their degree programmes.
Do the degree programmes of Leeds University’s Institute of Communications Studies meet the promises of the Russell Group? Given the relatively low proportion of first class degrees awarded and with less than 60% of students finding the Institute’s work feedback helpful the student experience is perhaps not one of being enabled to achieve ones maximum potential or to gain full benefit from a research-led learning experience.
The apparent discrepancy between Leeds University’s description of its Institute of Communications Studies undergraduate degree programmes and the student experience is a cause for concern. Prospective students are at risk of being misled into choosing degree courses that do not meet expectations engendered by the University.
The quality and standards of the Institute’s degree programmes is questionable in its own right and constitutes a further cause for concern. There is evidence of relatively low student satisfaction in specific areas and with the overall student experience. It seems that students are not able to achieve their maximum potential and there are indications of possible systemic difficulties within the Institute.
The University of Leeds is a member of the Russell Group of universities and yet, as far as this writer has been able to determine, the degree programmes considered here do not appear to meet the professed and implied assurances of a Russell Group university. It is perhaps not clear what a Russell Group degree implies or offers to the student experience.
Obvious areas for scrutiny include the comments and recommendations of the external examiners, complaint and drop-out rates and their causes, the culture and organisation of the Institute and possibly the effectiveness of the University’s internal review and improvement processes.
Unileaks UK (Twitter: @UnileaksUK) 28 June 2013.9
This article was amended on 11 December 2014 by the addition of this note. Since the article was first published the University’s Institute of Communications Studies has changed its name to the School of Media and Communications. The planned name change was reported by the Leeds Student (LS) newspaper on 16 February 2014. LS has since renamed itself The Gryphon. Its story, ‘School splashes thousands on new name’, is available online.
1 University of Leeds, ‘ICS Undergraduate Programmes’: http://ics.leeds.ac.uk/ug/.
Last accessed 2 June 2013.
3 World University Rankings 2011-2012:
World University Rankings 2012-2013:
Top 50 arts and humanities universities 2012-2013:
4 BA Broadcast Journalism (UCAS code: PJ59), BA Cinema and Photography (UCAS code: W600), BA Communications and Media (UCAS code: P900) and BA New Media (UCAS code: P390).
5 Unistats course data for Leeds University BA Broadcast Journalism (UCAS code: PJ59):
Unistats course data for Leeds University BA Cinema and Photography (UCAS code: W600):
Unistats course data for Leeds University BA Communications and Media (UCAS code: P900):
Unistats course data for Leeds University BA New Media (UCAS code: P390):
Select from the ‘Overview’, ‘Employment & accreditation’, ‘Student satisfaction’, ‘Cost & accommodation’, ‘Study information’, ‘Entry information’ tabs for different data sets. All links last accessed 17 June 2013.
6 Ibid., especially ‘Student satisfaction’ and ‘Study information’.
7 BA Broadcast Journalism University of Leeds Course Statistics 1 June 2013 (PDF)
BA Broadcast Journalism University of Leeds Selected Course Statistics 5 June 2013 (PDF)
BA Cinema and Photography University of Leeds Course Statistics 1 June 2013 (PDF)
BA Cinema and Photography University of Leeds Selected Course Statistics 5 June 2013 (PDF)
BA Communications and Media University of Leeds Course Statistics 1 June 2013 (PDF)
BA Communications and Media University of Leeds Selected Course Statistics 5 June 2013 (PDF)
BA New Media University of Leeds Course Statistics 1 June 2013 (PDF)
BA New Media University of Leeds Selected Course Statistics 5 June 2013 (PDF)
8 ‘Russell Group comment on the forthcoming IPPR report’, 28 May 2013:
Last accessed 11 June 2013.
9 The substance of this document was emailed to The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) on 26 June 2013. The content of the discussed ICS webpage and the data for its undergraduate degree programmes may have since changed. References 2 and 7 provide the information of early June 2013 on which this article is based.