A satisfyingly simple solution

October 13, 2016

With four months having passed since the publication in Times Higher Education of a mock league table of the teaching excellence framework (“A new perspective”, Features, 23 June), one could make a safe bet that every university department in the country will have discussed the results and put in place a bunch of rules to be followed and targets to be met by their academic staff. Middle managers enthusiastic about acquiring and exercising power over scholars in their employment certainly would not have missed such an opportunity. Student satisfaction, as measured by the National Student Survey, will have featured fully in these discussions and anyone with training in statistics will have been kept out, sparing them the torture of having to be part of giving exaggerated interpretations of noise in the survey results. 

However, what certainly would not have featured in such analyses and the subsequent diktats that follow from them is a simple driver of student satisfaction, something that everyone – and every discipline in every university – can use to improve their NSS scores. This powerful lever that I have observed, a secret I am willing to share with readers of THE today, is this: staff satisfaction. This is not difficult to see: unhappy academics, shackled by a web of bureaucracy, are bound to pass on their dissatisfaction, often unconsciously, down to the student body.

Unfortunately, we the academic community and the managers among us who are more obsessed with rankings and the relative positions of our departments than in the greater global good of the student community are unlikely to be interested in any approach by which everyone can improve.

Mahesan Niranjan
University of Southampton

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