Bring on those happy bunnies 2

February 3, 2006

Like Frank Furedi ("In pursuit of the happy bunnies", January ), I also used to think that the national student satisfaction survey was a waste of time and money. Downloading the data from the Teaching Quality Information website and carrying out a regression analysis persuaded me otherwise. More can be inferred from the results than is apparent from the league tables derived from it. From my analysis, the survey design appears to be good and the participants appear to have responded with an appropriate level of seriousness.

I also calculated the contribution made by the six groups of explanatory variables and found that much of the overall satisfaction was explained by the teaching quality and academic support. There was a significant difference between attributes driven by teaching quality and those driven by the quality assurance mechanisms, on which there is much misplaced emphasis these days.

If the senior managers of universities are interested in making their departments robust to league table positions, then actions that are reported to have been taken in many campuses may be regarded as clever. But if one were to take a deeper look into the survey results, the right response would be to drop the "we are better than Poppleton" attitude and to help lecturers to improve the quality of their courses. Such a step should start with a systematic and sharp reduction in the number of bureaucratic processes now associated with teaching at universities.

Mahesan Niranjan
Sheffield University

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