Very unsatisfied with NSS

January 9, 2014

The National Student Survey is the very worst kind of PR scam ever to have afflicted higher education.

It does not measure staff commitment to student success or display appreciation for the huge effort that most staff take in their students’ interests. I really feel my age at times: having had a university education that was meant to educate, I had the satisfaction that came from being educated rather than “satisfied” in some abstract sense and certainly not entertained.

I am sometimes very demoralised by the way things have developed in higher education. All in my highly educated peer group speak the same way. I have never heard anyone with a proper university education remark that the NSS is anything but useless in terms of measuring teaching effectiveness and utterly corrosive in terms of staff morale. Even a “good” NSS score is an insult to teaching staff because the questions are couched in such a pejorative way. Even a “good score” focuses on the “room for improvement” back-handed type of compliment and devalues staff commitment and quality.

Students and staff alike are cheated by this marketing scam, and treating education as a “product” is preposterous. The NSS results are a reintroduction of the “8 out of 10 cats prefer…” advertising of the 1960s. It is like asking someone to rate the degree of satisfaction they got out of the Mars bar they just ate. “My God! That Mars bar has just taught me to appreciate life, and over the next four or five decades I will look back on it as an inspiration in all life experience.”

One of the most humbling experiences in my life in education goes back to my schooldays. As a snotty-nosed know-it-all barrack-room lawyer of a schoolboy, I found fault with everything my teachers did. The stark realisation came many years later. They really did put me on the path to everything that I now know and as educators they were superb. I am grateful that we were never asked to make statements of our “satisfaction”, because they would have been utterly distorted by prejudice.

The NSS is a disgrace. The sooner it is consigned to the rubbish bin the better students and academic staff will be served.

Barry Turner
Senior lecturer in media law
Nottingham Trent University
Senior lecturer in media law and public administration
University of Lincoln

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