Criticism is good

July 6, 2007

Your story about my report on the experiences of Chinese students in Britain contains some criticisms ("Rate", June 29). Beatrice Merrick of UKCOSA is reported as saying that one disgruntled person might put a negative view without anyone else balancing it. However, with over 50,000 Chinese students, is this really likely?

By seeking the opinion of large numbers of people, trends become visible and aberrant cases may be discounted.

Sally Hunt from the University and College Union is also unhappy, saying that a website could lead to "online gossip" and "malicious rumours". Such a site would actually exclude comments on named individuals but even so, the criticism seems strange. Are we to cease asking students their opinion in case some say very negative things? If, for example, they believe that their department is chaotic and supervision is poor then should they not have the right to say so?

My study showed that most actually valued their education quite highly, but not everyone had this experience. I do not accept Hunt's view that people are more likely to speak negatively than positively. The opposite can be the case in Chinese culture, because the students' status flows from the profile of those who taught them.

More importantly, if we accept the principle of limiting criticism then what is to become of all the current processes of student feedback on courses and teaching quality that we deploy within universities?

The proposed website would, in effect, make such evaluations public and transparent. It would do much to dispel unfounded rumours, and would be a key resource for future students.

Greg Philo
Glasgow University Media Group

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