Summary of Main Findings
‘The Pedagogic Quality and Inequality in University First Degrees Project’ was a longitudinal investigation of sociology and related social science degree courses in four universities . Its main objectives were to investigate what social science students value about their university education and differences in curriculum and teaching in different universities. The main findings are summarised below and relate to defining, improving and measuring the quality of undergraduate courses.
Defining good quality undergraduate courses
• High quality undergraduate courses are those in which students engage with academic knowledge in transformative ways. Courses in different disciplines are likely to be transformative in different ways.
• In sociology-related social sciences, academic engagement is transformative in three ways: students gain access to an understanding of academic knowledge that is interesting and relevant to their lives; it changes the way that they understand themselves and their place in the world; and they gain an enhanced understanding of society. Such outcomes emphasise the importance of maintaining sociology-related social science courses across the sector.
• Good teaching is vital if students are to engage with academic knowledge in transformative ways.
Improving the quality of undergraduate courses
• Improving teaching is central to improving the quality of undergraduate courses.
• Good teaching is multidimensional and improving it is timeconsuming and challenging.
• A focus on quality enhancement that supports lecturers is in danger of being obscured by the emphasis in recent policy documents on improving quality through competition.
Measuring the quality of undergraduate courses
• Key measures of the quality of undergraduate courses are students’ engagement with academic knowledge and good teaching.
• When quality is measured by engagement with academic knowledge, the ranking of the universities in the study is very different from that in national higher education league tables.
• Without engaging meaningfully in academic knowledge, students are unlikely to gain much benefit from studying an undergraduate degree. So in order to be valid measures of the quality of undergraduate courses, national higher
education league tables, Key Information Sets and the National Student Survey need to take account of students’ engagement with academic knowledge.