The University conceptualizes student success in a holistic manner, rather than narrowly defining this as purely academic success like retention rates, or time to completion for qualifications (although it recognizes these as important). The University thus seeks to contribute to the success of its students by improving the quality of support services it offers the students, enhancing the student community and environment to meet health, safety and community concerns, and offering a better experience to students, one that respects and promotes the Pacific consciousness and cohesiveness.
To enhance student success, we are looking to:
The University routinely monitors education performance of its students. This monitoring provides a broad, high level, indication of quality. Previously reports focused on how many students passed courses on average, and the opposite, that is, how many failed; that is, a classical 'retention' report. Whilst this is a useful indicator, providing broad assurance, with our students on average passing course at about the same rate as universities in Australia and New Zealand, the Senior Management Team (SMT), felt this was too broad, with the possibility being that it failed to uncover issues at a more local level. The DVC LTSS developed and gained approval for a more detailed, nuanced, measure of the education performance for our students.
This consisted of 3 Education Performance Indicators (EPIs):
The evaluation looked at course pass rates in much greater detail than previously.
Interestingly, examination of course pass rates for undergraduate degree level students, show that there is little variation by mode, location, programme, or gender. What seems to be the main issue is whether or not students are studying part time or full time, with part timers generally less successful than their full time counterparts. This may be due to competing commitments (e.g., family, religious or work), making it difficult for part time students to manage their time. Another reason may be that part timers spend less time on campus, meaning that they are less likely to take advantage of student learning support services offered by their faculties. To help part time students, the University has invested heavily in an online student learning tutorial service, provided free to all students called Studiosity (formerly known as Your-Tutor). Our initial evaluation of the service shows students that use it say it is very helpful, and that it does increase their chances of success. All part time students are actively encouraged to make use of this dedicated, free, service.
A further study is now being conducted looking at individual courses, rather than averaging courses pass rates. This will establish which individual courses, by mode and location, have the highest failure rates, and examine ways of addressing this such as prerequisites, assessment, content, learning support, and teaching practice.
The University is unusual in that it is owned by 12 member countries, and one consequence of this is widely varying high school systems, and a multitude ways in which students can gain entry to study. The University Handbook & Calendar shows students may gain entry from its own Foundation programmes, Fiji Year-13 exams, the South Pacific Board for Educational Assessment (SPNEA) exams, New Zealand National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), University of Samoa Foundation, and Form 7 from other countries. The entry 'landscape' is further complicated by the fact that Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga all removed scaling of external exam marks in recent years, and the Fiji Ministry of Education requested the University review its entry from aggregate best 4 subjects total of 250, down to 200, which Senate approved in 2015.
Given this complexity of entry requirements the Office of the DVC LTSS conducted a research project on first year entry that looked at these entry requirements to see if they are good predictors of success for university-level study. These findings suggested they were generally good predictors, but that the Fiji Year-13 entry mark should be raised, and somewhat surprisingly, school exam subject marks, with a few exceptions, were not good predictors of success in the same subject at university. Senate 2 of 2017, decided the results needed replication for the 2017 year, before making any change to the current entry marks.
The University continuously strives to improve attendance, retention, pass and completion rates and has introduced a major programme to improve first year student experience, with all Faculties providing a First Year Coordinator (see FALE, FBE, FSTE) and a University First year Experience Coordinator within Campus Life. A key role of the CL FYE Coordinator is management of a buddy mentorship programme, with over 200 buddies assigned to first years from 2016. We also have expanded our orientation programme to include Online Orientation (OO) available to all students.
From 2018 it will include a more festival atmosphere, with face-to-face drop in booths for students where they can meet faculty staff and service staff.
To improve the equity of student services, we have developed and are in the process of implementing the University Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy. We also have in 2017 strengthened the bursary and scholarship schemes allowing wider participation, with FJ$1 million committed to bursaries to help support students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and FJ$150,000 dollars for scholarships for high achievers under the Pacific Academic Excellence (PAE) Awards.
The University has worked with regional member countries to help develop financing schemes with Governments and Financial Institutions for tertiary students. A position paper was sent to the Chair of The Fiji Tertiary Scholarships & Loans Board (TSLB), presented at the Fiji Top Executives (TOPEX) annual conference, and sent to the Solomon Island Government and Kiribati Government, both of whom are seeking to develop loans schemes to fund expansion of the provision of higher education.
We have promoted Pacific consciousness and cohesiveness by the expansion of Campus Life activities to other campuses. From 2017 we have provided face-to-face student counselling services in Vanuatu, Labasa and Lautoka, and are looking at further expansion in 2018, subject to funding. The University has numerous cross-cultural societies and activities, including sport and recreation and various faith-based and other cultural groups. Each campus has a student association, with these associations aggregating in the Federal Student Body USPSA.
The University strives to create a student community with high levels of awareness of health and safety issues and respect for others by fully implementing our health and wellness management plan; improving security and safety on all campuses; and creating intercultural dialogue and interaction to foster tolerance amongst students. The University conducted an audit of security services across all its campuses, and has implemented all recommendations of the consultant's report.
Building and funding an increase in student accommodation on the large campuses has proven problematic, because of high construction costs due to a building boom in Fiji, the high cost of building in remote locations, and scarcity of development funding. Despite this the University opened new accommodation blocks on the Laucala Campus, and at the Marshall Islands Campus in 2017.
Plans are being considered for further development at Laucala, in an ambitious FJ$20-25 million project.