Leader: Don't rush to satisfy

November 21, 2003

The postponement of England's first full student satisfaction survey until 2005 might be mildly embarrassing for ministers since the higher education white paper made the implausible promise of a debut this year.

But they should learn to live with it if the delay makes time to iron out faults in what will become a highly sensitive process. Not only will the results colour the view of academics within their own institutions, but they are certain to be incorporated in league tables.

The higher education system as a whole has little to fear from the exercise if the pilot results and findings from similar surveys are anything to go by. Early returns from the pilot were overwhelmingly positive, and in Scotland only 3 per cent of the 2,000 students interviewed were dissatisfied with teaching standards. But the devil will be in the detail of the national survey. Response rates must be higher than the 40 per cent achieved in the pilot when even a handful of returns will influence the future of many small units.

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