A flawed but useful tool

October 14, 2010

I read the letter from Tom Hickey et al about their courses' outstanding National Student Survey results with disappointment ("NSS result: unsatisfactory", 30 September).

We at the University of Brighton Students' Union agree that the NSS is an imperfect tool. It does not explore levels of engagement against which statements of satisfaction can be assessed. There are issues with Likert-scale midpoints that may confuse ambivalence with neutrality. Questions should also be raised about the way data are aggregated to reach figures such as 100 per cent satisfaction, where it may be fairer to differentiate those who agree strongly from those who agree a little.

We accept these frailties and don't advocate blindly chasing percentage-point improvements or league-table rankings. However, we welcome the opportunity to engage with a wealth of feedback that informs our work supporting students and their representatives in contributing to the curriculum and promoting deeper engagement with the transformative opportunities a good university offers.

So, rather than celebrate potentially flawed results (although some congratulations are due) or boycott a flawed but useful tool, I suggest we look behind the headlines and explore the rich commentary we have access to. I specifically look forward to working with colleagues to address student views on improving library resources, the physical estate and some aspects of the organisation and management of humanities courses, while sharing what can only be described as excellent teaching practice with scholars throughout the university.

Emily-Ann Nash, Vice-president, academic affairs, University of Brighton Students' Union.

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