Plan for students who can't get no satisfaction

January 28, 2010

Academics in art and design have drawn up a plan to tackle stubbornly low scores for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey.

As long ago as 2007, Sir Michael Bichard, at that time the head of the University of the Arts London, described the disciplines' performance in the survey as "lamentable".

But despite efforts to improve the ratings, art and design still does not perform well in comparison with other subject areas, according to a forthcoming report, I Can't Believe It's Not Better: The Paradox of NSS Scores for Art and Design.

The study describes "a sense of frustration" among staff about the lack of improvement.

The Group for Learning in Art and Design commissioned higher education consultant David Vaughan and Mantz Yorke, a visiting professor at Lancaster University, to analyse the survey results at 17 institutions.

In interviews, some staff readily acknowledged that the results had been a "wake-up call" and that some colleagues "had tended to rest on their laurels".

The results have prompted action in institutions, the study adds. NSS scores were taken seriously and carefully monitored. But an "underlying issue" in many of the discussions was how art and design students interpreted the survey questions.

"The widely held view was that the pedagogy of art and design subjects, where students are encouraged to explore and navigate their own way through projects with support, was poorly served by NSS questions, which were felt to relate more to subjects with a highly timetabled, often lecture-based, structure," the report says.

Other possible issues, the study suggests, are that students and tutors may have different views of what constitutes "feedback"; a growth in student numbers is not being matched by a corresponding growth in accommodation and resources; and the high proportion of part-time teaching staff.

In response, academics in the field have drawn up an action plan that will be led by the Higher Education Academy's Art Design Media Subject Centre. Students and students' unions will be asked about their understanding of NSS questions, the role of programme leaders will be reviewed, and teaching materials will be examined.

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