Julia Buckingham is Pro Rector Education for Imperial College London. As part of her role she is responsible for the academic standards of the College and, along with the Dean of Students, Prof. David Lloyd-Smith, oversees the pastoral care programme for students. Outside Imperial Julia is a Fellow of the British Pharmacological Society of which she was President in 2004. Among other committees she has also been General Secretary of the Society for Endocrinology and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Neuroendocrinology.
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How important are league tables and how concerned is the College about maintaining our position in them?
I think League Tables give the general public an idea of what goes on in universities, I think they are important in that respect. I think one has to look very carefully at the type of data that league tables use and some of the data are subjective and some of the data are objective and i think one has to be very careful to differentiate between those. But none the less league tables do inform us and we are obviously concerned about our position in them. Our goal is to be number one.
So do you think we need to worry about our position within the top ten or just being in that top ten?
I think it's essential. Well it depends which league tables we are talking about. Whether you're talking about the national ones or the international ones.
In this case the national ones.
For the national ones I think it is very important we're in the top ten. Yes extremely important.
Value added is a criteria that is taken into account in the Guardian League Tables. Do you think that is a fair criteria to rate the College's performance on?
I think it's a very difficult one. Because value added is a factor of how students performed at school versus how they've performed at university. All of our students have performed extremely well at school. It's very difficult to jump from doing extremely well to doing extremely well again which is what our Graduates do so I think Value Added is actually an unhelpful index that we have in League Tables because it's not a fair comparative that we have between universities.
With a lot of our intake being now at 3 A's do you think our student intake is equivalent to that at Oxbridge?
It's a very difficult question to answer. Their selection criteria are different from ours. They have different selection processes. I would hope they're as good but it's a difficult question to answer.
Having said that students at Oxford are 26% more likely to come out with a first or a 2:1. Do you think in that case value added is a fair comparison between Imperial and Oxford for example?
Again, it's an impossible question to answer without having the hard data. I think that's certainly true I think Imperial has always maintained its degree standards. There has been no degree inflation at Imperial over the last ten years.
So are year-on-year students compared to the performance of previous years?
Roughly the same, obviously there are small variations from year to year but if you look across ten years the percentage getting 1s and 2:1s has hardly changed. So I think we have maintained our very very high academic standards. And i think very importantly employers recognise that. If you look at the employability of Imperial Graduates it's actually very very high. As also are their earnings.
Given that recently on Live!'s comments students have said that they would prefer a 1st from a second rate university than a 2:1 from Imperial which is the equivalent that they would get. Do you think that might be damaging Imperial and given that the Rector has called for possible privatisation and higher fees would it be possible for imperial to maintain its position as a high level competitor?
Well I'm very concerned that students feel like that I'm surprised that they feel like that because as i said I think our degrees are very well recognised internationally. The fact that our students are so highly sought after, I think is a credit to the College.
Do you think employers do recognise that an Imperial 2:1 is as good or equivalent to a 1st possibly from another university?
I think employers recognise the quality of Imperial's education.
The Guardian League Table also takes into account two aspects from the NSS, the National Student Survey, those being teaching and feedback. For both of those criteria we're ranked at second to bottom in the Russell Group. Feedback in particular is very poor in medicine where only 18% of respondents believed they had received detailed comments on their work. It's a pretty perennial issue. Is the college doing anything to take this seriously and if so what?
Yes the College is very very concerned about the feedback we've had from students both through league tables but i think more importantly the feedback we've had within the College. And i think, as you know, Hannah, the Deputy President (Ecuation and Welfare) has done a huge amount of work this year to talk to the students and try to understand what the issues are. She came to the Strategic Education Committee a couple of months ago and gave us an absolutely excellent presentation. Since then the SEC has put together a Working Party that I shall be leading to look into the whole issue of the academic student experience.
We want to look at student feedback, we want to look at the personal tutorial system and see if we can find ways of making it more effective. We want to look at the amount of small group teaching that students are getting across the College. Management Board has supported this absolutely fully and we will have an action plan in place within the next couple of months.
That's all very good news. Whenabouts would we be able to see changes that will be implemented from that working group?
Well I think, obviously change takes some time to implement. I hope very much we will see some changes in the coming academic year. And what I do intend to do as part of this is to set up processes by which we can monitor how successful we are being. So just as you like feedback from us we are going to be very very dependent on working with students on this to ensure that we get feedback from the students.
So we're going to be asking some the reps to really work quite hard. Possibly even monthly or bi-monthly at what is happening. We also want to see the staff-student committees working perhaps a little more effectively than some of them do now. So the reps really do take responsibility for feeding back to their whole cohorts about what is happening. Gathering feedback and coming back to us. So we really do close these loops.
One of the things I'm always concerned about is that committees sit and talk about all sorts of important things. They're very good at reporting up. They're very bad at reporting down.
See more of our series of interviews that starts with Head of Commercial Services, Paddy Jackman. Next week, Live! speaks to Deputy President (Education & Welfare), Hannah Theodorou, to get the Student Union's view.