Annual Review 2020: Success and Recognition

Plymouth rated in the top 25 for teaching in the NSS

The University has been placed in the top 25 for teaching in the National Student Survey (NSS) 2020. Plymouth registered an increased score of 86.82% (up from 85.97% last year) across ‘The teaching on my course’ set of questions, rising 16 places as a result. Of 57 subjects offered by the University, 25 improved their rank as measured by Overall Satisfaction, resulting in 16 subjects featuring in the upper quartile, and five – Dentistry, Environmental Sciences, History of Art, Architecture and Design, and Ophthalmics – in the top three of their subject groups. Among this year’s standout performers were Economics, which climbed 53 places, and History, up by 47 places. The University also maintained its place in the top 50 HEIs for the key Overall Satisfaction score, which, at 84.92%, remains well above the sector average of 83%. The NSS, run by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Office for Students, is the biggest survey of students’ views in the UK. Despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdown in the UK being introduced in the middle of the survey period, nearly 80% of Plymouth students took the time to share their views, a record in itself for the University since the survey began ten years ago.

These results demonstrate first-hand the strength of our teaching and learning offer. I am delighted that, in spite of the unexpected changes to the way our courses needed to be delivered as a result of the coronavirus, so many of our final-year undergraduates felt able to express so positively their satisfaction with our teaching and the facilities on offer.

Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor.

Plymouth visit by the Chair of the OfS

Sir Michael Barber, Chair of the Office for Students (OfS) – the independent regulator of higher education in England – visited the University to hear of its work to champion positive social mobility. 

Sir Michael met with representatives and students from all levels of the institution to discuss how the University is supporting social mobility in the South West and raising the aspirations of schoolchildren, young people and other prospective students around the world. This included representatives of Next Steps South West, the OfS-funded Uni Connect programme, regionally coordinated by the University with higher and further education institutions across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. Sir Michael also spoke with members of the Faculty of Health about the new foundation year for Medicine, focused on providing opportunities to students who may not normally consider a medical career. Finally, he toured the Marine Building and several other research facilities.

Our universities and colleges can make a decisive contribution in securing greater social mobility for young people, and ensuring that all students have the opportunity to unlock their potential. Forging links with schools, employers and other partners is essential to driving this change – this is why I was delighted to visit both the University and South Devon College. As always, it was helpful to meet with staff at both institutions and inspiring to hear from the hard-working and impressive students that I met.

Sir Michael Barber, Chair of the Office for Students.

Teaching fellowships and awards

The University has a proud pedigree of external recognition for its teaching culture – particularly in relation to National Teaching Fellowships (NTFs) by Advance HE. This trend was continued this year with Fellowships awarded to Professor Kamran Ali and Dr Richard Ayres, both in the Faculty of Health. Professor Ali, Consultant in Oral Surgery, joined the University in 2009 and the accolade rewards his long-standing work on preparedness for practice at regional, national and international levels. Dr Ayres, Clinical Academic and Lead for Population Health, has been teaching a variety of health workers for nearly 30 years and still practises as a doctor in Stonehouse, Plymouth – a GP practice that provides special experience for students in homeless healthcare and substance misuse. The accolades bring the total number of NTFs received by the University to 25.

Also in the Faculty of Health, Clare McIlwaine, programme lead for BSc (Hons) Dental Therapy and Hygiene, became the first dental care professional to win a prize at the Association for Dental Education in Europe (ADEE) awards. Clare won the Oral B Inter-professional Educator award, becoming the first non-dentist to win in any ADEE category, and was selected ahead of entries from dental schools across the continent.


Cabinet Minister's praise for community dental programmes

The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister Without Portfolio, has praised the work of the Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise (PDSE) following a visit to the University. Mr Cleverly attended the Devonport Dental Education Facility, meeting staff and students and learning about the community engagement work undertaken, including the weekly community clinic in which free treatment is offered to people currently experiencing homelessness in the city. The centre, which is run by the University and PDSE, is one of four across Devon and Cornwall where students from the Peninsula Dental School treat patients under the supervision of qualified and experienced dental health professionals. Alongside its education role, PDSE focuses on improving oral health and access to dental care for those groups that may feel excluded from mainstream dentistry, including those who are homeless.

It was fantastic to hear from staff and students at PDSE about the excellent community-focused training at the University. The way the University is supporting homeless people in the city is inspirational and should be celebrated.

The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP.

Graduate Outcomes on the rise

Graduates from the University are enjoying improved outcomes when they progress from higher education according to the new national survey. The Graduate Outcomes survey, which replaced its predecessor DLHE (Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education), has found Plymouth is performing strongly compared with other HEIs for UK-domiciled full-time first-degree leavers. 

The employment and/or further study metric (the proportion of graduates in work or further study out of those working, studying or looking for work) is 96.9% for the 2018/19 cohort, which places Plymouth in the upper quartile nationally – 34th out of 153 HEIs, above the sector average.

A second metric, looking at highly skilled employment among those in work only, records the University at 71.2%, placing it at 55th in the country, and again above the average.

The Graduate Outcomes survey records its data over a significantly longer time frame than the DLHE did (the census week is 15 months after graduation vs six months with the DLHE). And the process is fully centralised by HESA, providing a more objective picture with no data supplementation or optimisation of results being carried out by institutions.

Enrolments and graduations

The first cohort of students enrolled on the University’s MSc Marine Conservation this year, a unique programme delivered in collaboration with a suite of regional, national and international practitioners. The MSc is the only one of its kind where all students have the opportunity to gain direct work experience with such potential employers, including the WWF, Marine Conservation Society, Shark Trust and Blue Marine Foundation. The 2019/20 academic year also marked the first graduations of students at the Exeter School of Nursing and those enrolled on the University’s inaugural degree apprenticeships. Nine students graduated from the Chartered Management Degree Apprenticeship, eight of whom secured distinctions. And there was a first-ever online graduation as a new generation of doctors received their degrees at a virtual ceremony in May. A total of 78 medics attended the ceremony, with friends and family able to watch live. The decision to hold the ceremony early enabled the graduates to take up posts in the NHS in its hour of need.



Education and Student Experience

The University has built its reputation upon the quality of its teaching and learning for more than 150 years. From those trainee mariners who were educated and prepared for life at sea in the 19th century, to our contemporary doctors, lawyers, biologists and engineers, the University has been renowned for providing its students with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to succeed in the world.

There are many components to this: staff who love to teach and who want students to be a part of a shared academic community; a commitment to investing in facilities and equipment; a willingness to embrace pedagogic best practice and to innovate through sustainability; and a research-led curriculum, where students are learning from and engaging with academics who are leading explorations of research questions of the moment.

This year, as for the whole university sector, some of those underpinning tenets of the teaching and learning culture were challenged in a most profound way. The COVID-19 pandemic and societal lockdown meant we had to close the doors of our campus. Lecture theatres and laboratories, tutorials and examinations were either out of bounds or had to be reassessed and repurposed for the digital domain.

It took a huge amount of work from University teams to deliver that – many working around the clock against a variety of home challenges – but they delivered, and our students coped admirably with the changes. It was a genuine ‘coming together’ of our academic community.

The legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic very much influences our future as well. A great deal of focus has fallen upon how we deliver an even better student experience, one that provides equally and flexibly for those who want to be on campus and learning in a safe environment, and those who prefer to be based remotely, engaging with us through digital channels.

As the results of this year’s National Student Survey show – where we were in the top 25 universities for overall teaching – we are succeeding in delivering a distinctive south-west coast experience. But we have more to do, and we have the strategy in place to further improve our innovative education portfolio of truly excellent programmes and to grow still further our international footprint. From such a challenging year, there is cause for reflection, celebration and anticipation.

Professor Julian Chaudhuri
Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Education and Student Experience