Probe ordered into 'manipulation'

London Met told to look into claims it pressured students for a good rating, writes Rebecca Attwood

February 28, 2008

The funding council has told London Metropolitan University to investigate claims that one of its departments tried to manipulate students into giving it positive ratings in the National Student Survey.

Staff in the London Metropolitan Business School were asked this month to repeatedly show students a slide that told them to "seriously reflect" on their response "as it impacts on the reputation of your university, your teaching department and your award".

The slide stated that students should "be aware" that there were "feedback loops better suited to address more immediate and specific concerns than the NSS can". It was sent to staff in an e-mail from the school's associate director, Peter Wynarczyk, requesting that they "utilise the attached slide during the start of ALL class contact sessions with final-year undergraduates only, during the next six weeks, commencing NOW".

The e-mail said: "The message on the slide ... needs to be repeated on several occasions as a means of stimulating our NSS survey response rate (more likely to improve our ratings, ceteris paribus, if we can increase response rate)."

A member of staff who chose to remain anonymous said the e-mail appeared to demand that tutors should "intimidate" final-year students into giving positive responses.

Students throughout the university have also received a 1,000-word newsletter from Brian Roper, the vice-chancellor, detailing London Met's achievements and outlining improvements to the student experience.

A spokeswoman for the university said that any promotion of the survey followed NSS guidelines.

Robert Aylett, deputy vice-chancellor, said that Dr Wynarczyk had the approval of senior colleagues to remind staff of the importance of encouraging students to fill in the survey and to reflect carefully on what they said. Dr Aylett said: "This is entirely sensible and in no way could be construed as seeking to influence views."

A spokeswoman for the Higher Education Funding Council for England said it would ask London Met to investigate.

"Any attempts to manipulate the results of the NSS undermine the efforts made by institutions genuinely to listen to students and to use the results to improve their learning experience," she said.

"The survey is a unique and valuable resource for prospective students and institutions and we are committed to maintaining its integrity."

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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