Blogconfidential: Blag on?

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Blag on?

March 3, 2011

Our university is taking the National Student Survey very seriously. My department has been severely criticised in the survey over the past few years - we are understaffed with too much emphasis on research and too little on applied practice.

A range of quality-assurance "soldiers" have been preparing for this round in the hope that they can influence students to write nice things about us. Rooms have been booked - with refreshments and a light lunch - for "talks" about the importance of the "reputation" of the department. I have been approached to facilitate one of these events but am considering refusing on the basis that it is wrong to try to pressure the students in this way.

If I refuse to take part, then next week I am likely to be called in for a meeting with a range of middle managers to explain myself. My view is simple - we don't have enough staff to teach and we are particularly short of academics who can give our students the practical training they need to prepare them for life in the workforce.

It's the same old story every year, but do the managers listen? No - as students themselves make clear in every successive survey.

The department seems to think that it can influence students by corrupt means, implying that bad feedback will jeopardise their career chances. This disgusts me.

However, there are redundancies coming up - word is that two posts out of an existing team of 12 are at risk. I fear it could be me if I don't play ball.

The student survey is always challenging and transparency should be the order of the day - in an ideal world. While I can understand how you feel, no system or degree is perfect and you don't seem to realise that there is a crisis in the sector at the moment.

We all know that the National Student Survey is important in that it will have an influence on ratings and league tables.

But it is not as though the student survey is very useful to us as lecturers; we often know where the problems are, so students are usually only validating the knowledge we already have. And in the present climate of job losses, students are unlikely to be showering any of us with compliments.

There are far worse crimes in academia than attempting to boost the reputation of a course. You can rest assured that yours will not be the only institution trying to nudge its students towards a more positive way of thinking (of course, there is a fine line between encouraging them to think carefully about their experience and actually pressuring them to lie).

I doubt, in all honesty, that refreshments and covert conversations with students will have much influence. So go ahead, refuse to get involved and be the first name on the list of redundancies. Or you can stop being so pious and learn to play the game like everyone else.

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