Leader: Studies in confusion

November 17, 2006

One study adjusts teaching quality scores for "bias" towards old universities, another warns against the unfairness of comparing small universities with big ones in the National Student Survey.

Pity the deluded reader who takes quality assessors, or students, at their word. In Robert Raeside's reworking of teaching quality assessment scores, the generally higher scores produced by large departments can be regarded as a systematic bias or as a consistent finding. Similarly, although the assessors may have been impressed by high research ratings, none of the six criteria related to research. It is noticeable that the most satisfied NSS respondents also happened to be in highly rated research departments.

Most applicants will use the NSS - if they know about it and can work out how to make comparisons via the hitherto impenetrable Teaching Quality Information website - to judge courses in their chosen subject. But they may also be interested to know that students in small universities are generally more satisfied than those in larger ones. This is not a finding to be filtered out of published information, but it may surprise prospective applicants. Many still prefer a big university, perhaps because of considerations not covered in the NSS. Although Loughborough triumphed to take our Student Experience Award, Liverpool and Leeds were in the top five, well ahead of their NSS positions. Both studies make interesting reading for those choosing universities, putting the raw scores in context, but they do not invalidate the originals.

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