Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 45

Submission from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals



    A. Library and Information services, physical and virtual, are the symbolic heart of learning in a universityB. To address the increasing Diversity of the student population, libraries have developed new ways of delivering effective servicesC. Libraries contribute to widening participation in a number of ways—through support of informal learners, collocation with other libraries and participation in the AimHigher programme

    D. Tensions exist between meeting the needs of teaching and research—library budgets are rarely sufficient to cater for both

    E. Learning resources top the satisfaction ratings of most undergraduate student surveys and many libraries have gained external quality accreditation (eg Chartermark—now Customer Service Excellence)

    F. Through Centres of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs). Libraries support developments in e-learning and other approaches to learning—eg inquiry or problem-based learning

    G. There is a range of funding provision available for the support of teaching by libraries. CILIP has particular concerns about the learning resource provision for HE students in Further Education Colleges and students on overseas campuses.

    H. Libraries are effectively combating plagiarism through programmes of Information Literacy that explain the problem to students and promote positive behaviours

    I. Libraries engage with students in a variety of ways to ensure services are tailored to their needs

    J. Since the introduction of top-up fees student expectations of libraries have risen whilst funding in real terms has diminished

    K. The substantial library and information resource budgets of some overseas universities are reducing the competitive appeal of UK universities to international students.

    L. In particular we recommend:

    (i)The Government/HEFCE should take steps to ensure greater parity of library experience between HE students in Further Education and those studying in Higher Education Institutions

    (ii)The Government/HEFCE should encourage equity of treatment between academic and other learning support staff, for instance in eligibility for National Teaching Fellowships

    (iii)The Government/HEFCE should provide tools for developing and enhancing a student-centred service including self-evaluation tools for Higher Education Institutions.


  1.  The Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP) welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the Inquiry on Students and Universities. CILIP is established by Royal Charter and is the professional body for library and information professionals in the UK. It has over 20,000 members working in all parts of the UK economy including higher education. The University, College and Research Group and the Colleges of Further & Higher Education Group are specialist groups within CILIP consisting of practitioners and experts working within higher education libraries.

2.  The student experience of higher education is an important subject that not only relates to the sustainability and success of higher education in the UK but also the continued development and success of the UK knowledge economy.

  3.  Library and information services are the symbolic heart of learning in a university, either in physical or virtual form. They provide access to study and learning environments, broker access to academic and other information resources and provide significant amounts of direct support to learners and researchers. Much of the debate on the student experience is framed by discussions on teaching, there is often limited scrutiny of the roles of libraries in enhancing learning. As this submission shows, libraries are an integral part of the student experience of HE and make an important contribution to the quality of their experience. This contribution is often unacknowledged—services, especially virtual services, are provided within a general university framework—but it is important that the managers of universities and others who shape and influence the direction of HE in this country are aware of that contribution and provide sufficient funding for its provision.

  4.  Our submission follows the structure of the Inquiry although we comment only on those areas of direct relevance to the role library and information services in HE and the skilled staff who deliver them.


  5.  It is important to recognise the increasing diversity of the student body and the wide range of learning modes now catered for. Of the 2.5 million UK HE students[121] many no longer study full-time at a UK higher education institution. An increasing number undertake HE accredited courses in Further Education Colleges; others study part-time or are distance learners. In the light of forthcoming demographic changes (with significant reduction in the numbers of 18 years-olds entering higher education) and policy drivers to extend level 4 and 5 skills within the working population the Inquiry needs to give as much attention to the needs and experiences of these students as to the more traditional student resident on or close to the HE campus.

The Implementation and success of widening participation initiatives such as Compact agreements, and the impact of the current funding regime on these objectives

6.  Diversity in the student body is a success story for universities in reaching new audiences although continuing widening participation remains an important driver for change. Libraries contribute to widening participation in a number of ways:

    a. Providing access to informal learners and breaking down barriers and perceptions of university life. This may be achieved through local "learning city" schemes (eg Sunderland) or via the Inspire programme providing a framework of access agreements to library services in all sectors. However the restrictive nature of many licenses for online information services may prevent those not registered with the university from accessing these sources. It is an area where any comment by the Select Committee setting out the short-sighted nature of these restrictions would be welcome. These could be fed into the Carter report on "Digital Britain".[122]

    b. Co-location of HE libraries with public or other types of libraries—the new University of Worcester library will combine public and HE libraries

    c. Active collaboration with AimHigher initiatives[123] evidenced by induction sessions within HE libraries for school students from Year 6 and later. There are examples of considerable innovation in widening participation within the sector, exemplified by the library sleepovers for pupils by the University of Wolverhampton.

  7.  Libraries have a sound track record of innovation and service development in student support through offering converged services, developing services for distance learners, and in extending reciprocal access to university libraries across the UK through the SCONUL (Society of College, National & University Libraries) Access scheme. Provision for disabled students is often extensive and sensitive, providing proactive support beyond the requirements of legislation (eg Northampton and De Montfort University, Leicester).


Balance between teaching & research provision in UK Universities

  8.  Since the Follett report[124] most physical redevelopment of libraries has focused on creating effective learning spaces for students, evidenced by the development of blended learning spaces (eg the Adsetts Centre at the Sheffield Hallam University, the Information Commons at the University of Sheffield and the Learning Grid at the University of Warwick). More recent physical developments have rebalanced this provision with researcher spaces (both student and staff) spaces (eg the Wolfson Research Exchange at the University of Warwick, David Wilson Library at the University of Leicester).

9.  In terms of information resource provision, libraries often manifest the tension between teaching and research, with typically, researchers pressing for ever more extensive journal and specialist monograph provision and students requesting access to reading list material in print and electronic formats. Library stock budgets are rarely able to accommodate the interests of both groups and at times library staff have limited control over purchasing decisions.

The Quality of teaching provision and learning facilities in the UK

10.  Students make assessments of the quality of learning resource provision through the National Student Survey (NSS)[125] and the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES).[126] It should be noted that student satisfaction with learning resources is the highest performing area in universities, although significant disparities exist between institutions with scores in the top quartile and those in the bottom. Aside from Oxford and Cambridge with their undoubtedly world class provision, there is not necessarily any direct correlation between the level of resources and student satisfaction levels. The NSS therefore seems to indicate that there are more complex factors, linked to discipline, expectations and most fundamentally the extent of the integration between the library and information service and the learning, teaching and research mission of the HEI.

11.  Academic library services have developed more sophisticated responses to enhancing customer service by applying external service quality standards and tools (Chartermark and Customer Service Excellence eg University of Huddersfield) and developing area-specific customer satisfaction measures and tools, which can be benchmarked to learn from best practice and set enhancement objectives (eg LibQual, SCONUL Satisfaction survey[127]). Absolute measures of library value and impact are difficult to determine. There is evidence that libraries are efficient and effective services, offering high levels of user satisfaction economically but this could be argued to be more of a measure of customer service effectiveness rather than an absolute measure of quality. The development of DIUS/HEFCE accredited development and evaluation tools on providing a student-centred service would be a useful resource for improvement.

  12.  Library and information services, particularly in the form of converged library, information and learning services provide central support and development for e-learning and as change agents in innovative learning and teaching, particularly in domains like inquiry or problem-based learning (eg the CILASS CETL—Centre of Excellence in Teaching & Learning—at the University of Sheffield and the Blended Learning CETL at the University of Hertfordshire). As the focus for independent study and learning libraries also provide real opportunities for students to develop as researchers, completing the support provided for research, teaching and research-informed teaching

  13.  The contribution of library and information professionals to the student learning experience has been recognised by their eligibility to become Registered Practitioners of the Higher Education Academy and success in the competitive National Teaching Fellowship (NTF) scheme and in internal university excellence schemes. Sadly, this recognition is not extended consistently across institutions and in some cases library and information professions are excluded from any excellence schemes or learning and teaching development programmes.

Funding issues

  14.  This lack of equity between institutions is also noted in respect of information resource budgets and learner entitlements both within the HE and most particularly when studying HE within FE or while based outside the UK.[128] CILIP has especial concerns about learning resource provision in FE colleges and its adequacy to support the learning requirements of HE students based in such institutions. There are no agreed national standards for the minimum level of resources or services to provide an appropriate learning experience for university students, and although there is evidence from NSS, PRES and scrutiny in institutional audit and IQER, it is the view of CILIP that there are insufficient safeguards for the quality of library and learning resources.

15.  As noted in Paul Ramsden's report on "Teaching and the Student Experience"[129] international students perceive that UK libraries are less well-resourced than those at competitor institutions abroad. Similarly increased costs for digital curation need to be recognised in HEFCE funding if UK universities are to remain competitive internationally.


The extent to which student plagiarism is a problem in HE, and the availability and effectiveness of strategies to identify, penalise and combat plagiarism

  16.  Plagiarism is an area of current concern to many higher education institutions. In addition to strategies to identify, penalise and combat plagiarism some effort needs to be given to informing students of academic integrity and good study and research practice.

17.  Libraries have an important role to play in developing effective strategies, particularly in educating students on issues of academic integrity and awareness of plagiarism as part of an integrated information literacy programme. However information literacy training cannot be a substitute for adequate educational achievement at schools, nor for poor educational practice, and there are concerns that the lack of investment in information resources in the schools sector and a lack of attention given to this particular issue means that higher education institutions are making students "unlearn" what they have been allowed to do earlier in their educational experience. Some acknowledgement must also be given to the needs of some international students who have come from different educational traditions.


  18.  Student engagement with Higher Education begins before the student arrives on campus. This "student journey" then continues until the graduate becomes a member of the University alumni. The library is able to engage with students throughout their journey. For example, as part of the recruitment process potential students will engage with the University website, and be able to view the contents of the University library and get an understanding of the resources held which could support their chosen course. This is continued with the potential student's attendance at an Open Day, when the library will offer tours and other interactive events for visitors. Throughout the student's academic life, the library will form a crucial part of their studies, whether as a user of physical resources or through the extensive collections in the virtual world.

19.  Academic libraries in both the Higher and Further Education sectors place great emphasis on receiving student feedback. This feedback comes in many forms. As mentioned elsewhere within this response, the National Student Survey, the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey and the LibQUAL+ surveys all encourage responses by students with regard to library services. Also, students at many institutions are often present on Library Policy Forums, or form regular library focus groups. Library staff are often members of University Academic Boards, or Senates, at which students usually have representation. Feedback can also be more informal in nature, with students using email, telephone, instant messaging, SMS and social networking sites (such as Facebook) to pass on information to library staff.

  20.  Libraries have to ensure they are compliant with Equality and Diversity Legislation, and have carried out Impact Assessments where appropriate and as directed through general University policy (Equality Challenge Unit, 2007)[130]

Examples of reasons for, and potential strategies to reduce, the non-completion of higher education programmes by students

  21.  Libraries are often well placed to support students and help them complete their course of study. Many Universities have services which help students with study skills, for example writing essays or offering help with the avoidance of plagiarism (Learner Development Unit, Birmingham City University; Effective Learning Service, Queen Margaret University[131]). These Centres are often based within libraries as these spaces are seen as neutral and non-threatening. The Centres are seen as being linked to enhancement, not failure "giving the edge to your work" (Staffordshire University, 2008).[132]

22.  Libraries often provide support in less traditional ways. Many now successfully offer help through "roving" staff, who proactively approach students and offer relevant information at the point of need (Antonesa and Murphy, 2008).[133] Students have a wide variety of hardware and software available to them, and roving staff are able to provide support, for example in using an interactive Smartboard, displaying a DVD through an overhead projector or finding the latest selection of e-books for their subject area.

The adequacy of UK higher education (HE) funding and student support packages, and implications for current and future levels of student debt

  23.  Feedback from English Higher Education suggests that student expectations are rising, with the introduction two years ago of student top-up fees. Students expect that libraries will be open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They expect that their text books will be available both in print format and electronically. They do not expect to pay fines, and they think that printing should be free. These expectations are being addressed in library strategic plans (eg Loughborough University Library, 2008; University of Warwick, 2004)[134]

Any further action required by the Government and/or HEFCE to ensure that UK HEIs offer students a world class educational experience

24.  Government and HEFCE should be aware that UK HEIs are facing greater competition for international students who would previously have chosen the UK as their place of study, particularly from the US. Competition for students is exacerbated by the large budgets enjoyed by some US libraries in comparison to libraries in the UK, which research has shown to be a factor when students are choosing their University (Sconul, 2008).[135]

December 2008

121   See Higher Education Statistical Authority press release, "Higher Education Statistics for the UK 2006/7" at: Back

122   Lord Carter, Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting, is putting together a "Digital Britain" report setting out an action plan to help maximise the UK's competitive advantage in this area including the benefits to society. See: Back

123   For details of AimHigher programme see: Back

124   Joint Funding Councils' Libraries Review Group: Report. HEFCE, SHEFC, HEFW, DENI. 1993 (The Follett Report) Back

125   For National Student Survey see: Back

126   For Postgraduate Research Experience Survey see: Back

127   SCONUL facilitate the use of both survey schemes: see and Back

128   The wide disparity in information resource budgets supporting teaching and learning is set out in Support of Teaching by libraries in higher education, SCONUL, 2008. See Back

129   Teaching and the student experience. Paul Ramsden. DIUS, 2008. See Back

130   Equality Challenge Unit (2007) Conducting equality impact assessments in higher education [online] Available from: Back

131   See: Queen Margaret University (2008) Effective Learning Service [online] Available from: Back

132   Staffordshire University (2008) Study Skills Centre [online] Available from: Back

133   Antonesa, M. and Murphy, E. (2008) Front-line service delivery: responding to changing user needs and patterns of library usage at NUI Maynooth [online] Available from: Back

134   See: Loughborough University Library (2008) Service Level Agreement [online] Available from: and University of Warwick (2004) University library strategic plan [online] Available from: Back

135   Sconul (2008) Library services for international students [online] Available from: Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 2 August 2009