May 13, 2008

University staff faking survey - Kingston University

By Sean Coughlan, BBC News education reporter

Students were instructed to exaggerate as "that's what everyone else is doing". University staff have been caught pressuring students to dishonestly answer an official funding council survey of student satisfaction.

Kingston University staff have been recorded instructing students to inflate their responses in the annual National Student Survey. "If Kingston comes down the bottom, the bottom line is that nobody is going to want to employ you," staff warned.

The university says it regrets this "isolated" incident. The audio recording, published on Live! the student news website of Imperial College, London, reveals members of university staff strongly urging students to falsify their responses in this national survey, in order to create a more positive impression for the university.

'It might sound biased...'

"The reason it's important is the results of this survey get fed into a national database which then feed into league tables - and it's the league tables that prospective employers and postgraduate courses use to assess the value of your degree," an unnamed member of staff tells students.

If you think something was a four - my encouragement would be give it a five, because that's what everyone else is doing.
Kingston University staff to students

"If Kingston comes down the bottom, then the bottom line is that nobody is going to want to employ you."

Using an expletive, the member of staff tells students that a poor ranking will make employers think that their degree is without value. The university says the recording is authentic and that it is investigating the identity of the member of staff, which the press office says it believes to be a lecturer.

This National Student Survey was introduced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) as part of its quality assurance process - "to gather feedback on the quality of students' courses in order to contribute to public accountability".

However the recording from Kingston University shows an attempt to use the survey to manipulate the university's standing.

"In effect you're competing against lots of students at other institutions who also want their university to look good," students are told.

"Although this is going to sound incredibly biased, you rate these things on a five-point scale, if you think something was a four - a 'good' - my encouragement would be give it a five, because that's what everyone else is doing."

'Banging my head'

The recording even shows students being told specific areas in which the university wants to change its "profile" by fixing the results of the survey. The staff member tells students that there is a "dip" in the university's profile in giving students feedback. She says they might be failing to recognise the amount of feedback they are receiving.

"Feedback, in terms of this questionnaire, means what happens in seminars. Every seminar you have you get some interactive feedback from the person giving it. So if I ask a question and no one answers, and I start banging my head on the table, that is feedback.

"If I'm smiling and going 'yeah great', you're getting feedback. If you get a mark for a piece of work, that's what we mean by feedback."

Another member of staff instructs students not to use the survey for negative comments if they are unhappy about the modules they have been taught. "All that garbage you're spewing out about us" should not be included in the National Student Survey.

A spokesperson for Kingston University confirmed that they believed the recording to be genuine. "We believe this to be an isolated incident and regret the inappropriate comments made to students about the National Student Survey, even if these remarks were not intended to be taken entirely literally.

"With regards to disciplinary action, the investigation has yet to be completed so no decision has yet been made on what action should be taken in this case."

The Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce) says it is aware of this incident and believes it to be authentic - and says it takes this "very seriously" - but that it does not invalidate the overall results of the survey.

The importance of this national survey has been emphasised in previous years by the Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell - who called it a "powerful tool for student empowerment and institutional improvement".

"Academics up and down the country pore over these results to see how they are performing and how what they are offering can be improved," Mr Rammell had said about the survey.
To download and listen to the recording scroll to the bottom of the web page and click on 'click here to download'.
Also how the media covered this story:

Your Local Guardian: Kingston University students told to cheat on survey

Daily Mail: University lecturers told students to give them glowing reports or risk a 's**t' degree to boost league table ranking

Times Online: Give us glowing report or get a s**t degree, lecturers tell students

Flisolo: National Student Survey Rigged

Times Higher Education: Students urged to inflate national survey marks to improve job options

Telegraph Online: Kingston University students 'told to lie' to boost rankings

The London Paper: Kingston University lecturers in hot water over telling students to artificially boost ranking scores Students claim survey dishonesty

This is Hertfordshire: KINGSTON: Lecturers involved in university lie exposed

Londonist: Kingston Coaxes Suspect Survey Responses

And the following - posted on another blog:

Emma said...

I went to Kingston uni first as an undergraduate and then as a PhD student. This behaviour is very typical of the staff mentioned, particualry Fiona. Fiona is engaged to the Head of Psychology and thinks she can get away with everything as a result. When I was working as a memebr of staff whilst doing my PhD this was the kind of thing she would ask us to do.

There is so much favouritism at this uni and many staff are unhappy.

Fiona once told me to give a student a low mark because she kept complaining. She should be sacked for this but because of her fiance being so high up in the uni it probably won't happen.


Anonymous said...

One of the comments that was sent in to the report about cooking the books...

Same thing happened. It's a sad but true fact that all they cared about was public image. Rather than getting a true portrayal of the university's profile by real hard worked for results, they would rather falsify feedback, and pump more money into self image and marketing they loosely term as "partnerships". There is a great deal of disillusion within the university in both students and academic/technical staff, and the management who know about it seem to prefer to sweep it under the rug and carry on with their image branding crusade. If I had known what I know now about the university I would never have taken the course offer.
Pete, Leeds

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

Pg. 11 of todays Times has as an article on this.

Anonymous said...

The BBC is following this up nationwide ( ) so keep commenting and linking.

They say they had hundreds of emails confirming the abuse and intimidation is widespread.

Anonymous said...

As a psychology student at Kingston who was in that lecture when the comments was made, I find it ridicious how blown out of proportion this has become. One of the whole aspects of going to University is to become more independent; and I can sincerely say that I responded to the NSS survey completely honestly and certainly did not feel pressued or forced or any other adjective following Fiona and Fred's comments. Both are fantastic lecturers and it has annoyed me that Kingston (and in particular) one psychology lecture that took place on a Friday morning has been singled out. I find it very hard to believe that this is the only case in the country where this has taken place.

Anonymous said...

As a psychology student at Kingston who was in that lecture at the time the 'recording' was taken (which I feel I should point out was undoubtly a student whose dictophone was taping the lecture we had just attended and NOT AS A RESULT OF AN INVESTIGATION INTO CORRUPTION as I have read on other media sources) I certainly did not feel pressued or forced into saying anything in the survey. One of the aspects of going to University is becoming an 'independent thinker' - and yet sadly Kingston seems to have been singled out!

Stuart said...

Anonymous, just because you did not feel pressured does not mean that the comments were acceptable - indeed they are a truly unacceptable, abusive and unethical breach of professional conduct. The recording was made during the course of an existing investigation of corruption, coincidentally or otherwise. Tough luck on Kingston University if it is the one providing the evidence, but criminals don't get off because "everyone else is doing it".

Anonymous said...

It is great that some students are using this blog to speak out for those two lecturers.. there are always many versions of events....

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

Favouritism and cronyism is is a key management tool that in my experience is used ...

... it leads to bullying of those who are outside the inner circle.

Aphra Behn