Ask the students how to improve
While students are represented on boards of management and course committees, the impact they make is patchy - often due to the nature of the student population in further education.
The report, Student Representation in Scottish Further Education Colleges, states that students often found board of management meetings intimidating.
"It was difficult for them to contribute confidently without effective induction, training and support," it states.
More productive work was done by students on course committees, which was valued by staff. Here, too, "it was difficult for colleges to get some groups of students to participate and student attendance at meetings was often erratic". Part-timers, online learners and those in outreach centres often missed out.
Questionnaires did not impress inspectors as a means of finding out what students were thinking. Focus groups were preferred as an effective way of seeking more reflective views.
Some colleges are singled out for their efforts. John Wheatley in Glasgow, HMIE found last year, "used a good range of methods to gather the views of learners and staff on the learning experience and the provision of key support services". This included class representation on course committees and in focus groups.
Angus College, also inspected last year, receives feedback from students on programme teams, and issues regular questionnaires.
The former Falkirk College was found by HMIE in 2004 to have a "high commitment by all staff to obtaining and analysing regular feedback from students".
But even where there was good feedback, most colleges did not have systems in place for ensuring views were collated on a college-wide basis.
While most learners appeared to be content with the ways open to them to raise issues of concern, "across the sector apathy and lack of commitment within certain groups of students, and college systems that did not fully involve all sectors of the student population, reduced the overall impact of representation".