Differences of opinion

October 24, 2013

John Colley advocates publishing the results of student questionnaires and compares them to patient survival rates (“It’s got to be good”, Opinion, 10 October). He seems to think that the former are “objective” ways to test teaching effectiveness. However, survival rates are more analogous to examination results than to student opinions.

Furthermore, a number of studies have found that student questionnaires provide dubious evidence of teaching effectiveness, since high scores seem to correlate with extraneous properties of lecturers such as their race, gender and physical appearance. Colley cites National Student Survey results indicating that 14 per cent of students are dissatisfied with their teaching. As is well known, the NSS is often subject to a very low take-up rate, and it is not clear that it is representative of students as a whole. In any case, it is not obvious that good teaching can satisfy everyone, because if a student does very little work they are very unlikely to be satisfied with what they get out of a course.

Colley also suggests that responsiveness to student feedback is a recent innovation for reluctant academics. He is quite wrong about this. When I started teaching at the University of Leeds more than 20 years ago, student questionnaires were always given out and the scores and comments were taken seriously. We were given training, advice, guidance and mentoring, and the department put a great deal of effort into making sure that the students were well taught. Contrary to Colley’s rhetoric, in my experience academics on the whole care a great deal about the quality of their teaching.

James Ladyman
Head of department
Department of philosophy
University of Bristol


There is no respite for academics from the outdated management fads that emanate from the faculty of our esteemed business schools. First they want to use Taylorist metrics to measure our research output. Now John Colley, director of MBA and executive programmes at Nottingham University Business School, proposes to apply Douglas McGregor’s Theory X or Frederick Herzberg’s “kick in the ass” to motivate good teaching. Fortunately, most of us working in universities know that these ideologies have long been discredited. But we should be concerned about the kitsch that business school students are being fobbed off with.

Michael Rowlinson
Professor of organisation studies
School of Business and Management
Queen Mary, University of London

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