July 26, 2008

The Universities Secretary John Denham had told the House of Commons that he condemned the attempt at Kingston University to distort the survey

A university department is to be excluded from this year's official league tables of student satisfaction. The removal of Kingston's psychology department data follows a recording which caught staff instructing students to falsify their approval ratings.

Students were told by staff if they gave negative responses "nobody is going to want to employ you". The government-funded National Student Survey is intended to help applicants decide where to apply to university.

Kingston University says it accepts the decision and will work "to avoid any repeat of this incident". The decision to remove Kingston's psychology department from the 2008 National Student Survey, set to be published in September, has been taken by the Higher Education Funding Council which runs the survey.

'It might sound biased...'

"It's very important that people believe in the findings," said a Hefce spokesman.

The Universities Secretary John Denham had told the House of Commons that he "utterly condemned" the attempt at Kingston University to distort the survey.

There have been claims in e-mails sent to the BBC News website that the survey, part of the quality assurance system, was being used by some universities as a way of improving their public image - including an internal university e-mail describing the survey as part of "reputation management".

Along with removing Kingston's psychology department, the funding council is expected to issue tougher guidelines to protect the credibility of the survey.

Staff at Kingston University were caught in an audio recording encouraging students to dishonestly answer the survey - telling students that inflating the ranking of the university would be to their own advantage. "If Kingston comes down the bottom, the bottom line is that nobody is going to want to employ you," staff warned students.

"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," students were told.

The briefing from staff presented this official survey as an opportunity to promote a positive image for the university. "In effect you're competing against lots of students at other institutions who also want their university to look good," students were 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."

'Reputation management'

The recording showed 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 in the recording instructed students not to use the survey for negative comments if they were unhappy about the modules they had been taught. "All that garbage you're spewing out about us" should not be included in the National Student Survey, students were warned.

The spokesman for Hefce says that the survey is intended to help to inform the decision making of university applicants and to give universities feedback about their courses.

It is also part of the quality assurance to make sure that public money is being well spent in higher education. The survey is carried out in universities in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and in some participating universities in Scotland.

A statement from Kingston University said that it accepted the decision and "has been aware that this was the most likely outcome since this isolated incident first came to light".

"Kingston University has taken this situation very seriously and co-operated fully with Hefce as it has looked into the matter. The university plans to introduce an agreed script in the run-up to the next National Student Survey which will be widely circulated to students and staff to avoid any repeat of this incident."

From: http://news.bbc.co.uk

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is the sort of policies that encourage fraud of this sort at universities (i.e. in effect, misrepresentation of academic standards and/or refusal to make concrete improvements in quality) that lead directly to bullying of staff and students. When staff come forward and tell the truth about what's really going on, they are targeted for elimination rituals.

Wouldn't it just be easier to actually do something to improve the quality of education, rather than wasting resources by silencing and eliminating ethical and accomplished academics, as well as later being forced to waste hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money on defending the inevitable lawsuits that result from bullying the staff and students?

That's not even taking into account the extremely negative impact on the university's reputation and income stream when these things eventually come out in the wash -- and they nearly always do.
Tsk, tsk, penny-wise and pound-foolish.

A question for Sir Peter Scott:- Wouldn't it be wiser to take advantage of the energy and ingenuity of staff members to do GOOD for the University rather than wasting their talents by eliminating them?

Just imagine how much good these people could have done for the University if they weren't bullied out of their jobs when they voiced GENUINE concerns for the well being of the University?

Is there, indeed, no room for constructive criticism at Kingston University?

Why aren't those staff members who call for maintaining and/or improving standards listened to and rewarded?