Fightback on feedback

March 31, 2011

Your anonymous opinion piece, "Maintain standards? That's way more than my job's worth" (17 March), reflects unease at the increasing volume of the "student voice" as a quality control instrument in contemporary higher education. However, the sentiment is hardly a novel one. It adds to what may be seen as a corpus of rather confused anti-student satisfaction survey discourse that has been developing since at least the early 1990s.

Although I have every sympathy with the author's view that students are not simply "consumers" (thanks, Lord Mandelson), I cannot agree that they are merely "our raw material". We are all part of a transformative process in which both sides contribute.

Hence, much of the research into the impact of student-feedback surveys (particularly at the institutional level) indicates that students can and do have a positive influence on their own experience of higher education. Where institutions work with their students through a meaningful feedback or action process, core problems can be identified and addressed.

This process depends on a clear understanding of the purpose of collecting student feedback, which surely is about identifying areas that need improvement.

James Williams, Associate editor, Quality in Higher Education, Birmingham City University

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