Rate Your Lecturer website scores poorly with lecturers

Founder Michael Bulman digs in as academics expound on offering’s weaknesses

June 13, 2013

A case in points: Olivier Ratle’s friends posted rave reviews to test website’s rigour

The man behind the Rate Your Lecturer website, which encourages UK university students to publicly praise or censure their teachers, has defended the project against a glut of criticism from academics.

Michael Bulman, founder of the site, said he believed it would “help to redress the balance” between teaching and research in the UK sector, adding that too many institutions held the latter in higher regard than the former – to the detriment of student customers.

“When I was at uni, people were comparing and contrasting their courses and lecturers, and saying how some were better than others,” said Mr Bulman, who graduated with a BA in history from Northumbria University last year.

“I also spent a year in the US, where they already have the Rate My Professors site, and the idea came from there. I just thought I could do it better.”

His site ranks UK universities and lecturers on the basis of feedback from users, who give scores out of 10. It also contains a section where students can list teachers’ pros and cons.

One of those leading the protests against the site is Bill Cooke, head of the department of organisation, work and technology at Lancaster University Management School. His blog on the issue – declaring that lecturers are human beings, “not dancing bears” – has been accessed around 8,000 times.

“For people…early in their lecturing career, to be subject to that very public scrutiny is challenging and threatening,” he told Times Higher Education. “There is anger and anxiety…about the debt people are incurring as students and what will happen to them afterwards. Coming out and saying which lecturers are good or bad is an expression of that.”

He also claimed that because the site was not registered as a data controller with the Information Commissioner’s Office – a requirement for firms that hold personal data – it was in breach of data-protection rules. Mr Bulman said his company, Sterling Ideas, had not yet registered, attributing this to “inexperience”, but added that he expected the oversight to be rectified shortly.

The University and College Union warned that seemingly innocent internet “gossip” could lead to “online and offline bullying”.

“There is no way of determining if the individual posting comments has a real concern about the standard of their course, the university or the teaching, or just fancy lashing out after getting a poor mark,” said Michael MacNeil, head of higher education at the UCU.

Mr Bulman said that although it was possible that “one idiot will say something stupid”, comments were reviewed all the time and were “usually…useful and well thought out”.

However, Olivier Ratle, senior lecturer in organisation studies at the University of the West of England, has already revealed potential flaws in the site.

“I thought, just for fun, let’s see how rigorous the system is,” he said. “My friends managed to register using different email addresses and fake names, and were successful in rating me very positively.”

Dr Ratle was at the time of writing rated the fourth-best lecturer on the site thanks to his friends.

“He’s just too handsome, can’t really concentrate on what he’s saying,” reads one of the comments.


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Reader's comments (4)

I don't view students as 'customers', and never will; a customer implies a passive relationship of being given something, a product, in direct exchange for a cash payment; a good degree requires that the student actually does the work stipulated by their Lecturers, regardless of how much they are paying; you do get a degree automatically in return for paying £9,000 per annum, although Ministers are encouraging this dangerous mentality among students. Therein lies the fatal flaw in this out-of-control neo-liberal consumerist nonsense. Imagine, too, the blackmail which Lecturers are likely to be subject to: 'Give me an A+ or a First, or I'll say lots of nasty, malicious, things about you on Rate My Lecturer.' A Lecturer could get 99 excellent ratings from happy students, and then receive just one negative rating from a weak student who rightly got a low grade or degree - guess which of these student ratings university managers and government Ministers will leap on! Incidentally, as the government thinks a university education is simply about preparing students for the world of work, will graduates be encouraged to 'Rate their Employer' in future years? HHHmmmmm!
Should say 'you do NOT get a degree automatically in return for paying £9,000 per annum....'
Why do you think someone has found it 'necessary' to set up such a system? My wife is an advisory teacher visiting many schools in England and is absolutely appalled at how poor the lecturing standards are at my university. I have questioned the standards and nothing happened to rectify the issues, and this is not lecturer specific, it is a departmental problem. Schools are monitored by OFSTED, universities are self regulating where teaching standards are concerned. If you have a rubbish lecturer/assessor monitoring someone equally rubbish how on earth will they ever improve? I can tell you they are not improving at all. As far as students not being customers is concerned you are talking absolute rubbish. I am paying for a service. I am paying to be taught. I am paying for teaching time. Incidentally at the end of this degree 'I' will have a debt of over £30,000. You are not paying for me, the government is not paying for me and neither is anyone else. I expect to be taught correctly. I expect lecturers to be bothered about what they teach and how they teach it. It's about time they were held to account and if the government won't do it then we will. Why am I so annoyed by this? I am doing an engineering degree which is not easy with a family in tow and the teaching standards and ownership are diabolical. I'm disgusted by the poor standards. Absolutely disgusted and appalled.
Richie Brough: I don't know where you are taking your degree but it sounds bad. Out of interest, is there feedback from the students to the department at the end of each course? Is it anonymous? That is standard where I work and it feeds into appraisal/promotion. I don't think it is complete rubbish not to view students as customers. Sure they pay fees and in that sense are customers of course but they are also our "product" and education is a collaborative process. I think of it like joining a gym. I can pay to access the facilities and expertise of the staff but I have to do the exercise to achieve the end goal. Education has something in common with that.