Students, think twice before you tick us off

February 10, 2006

It is a delicate balance universities must strike: how to encourage students to complete student satisfaction surveys while at the same time not prejudicing the outcome.

It is a predicament that David Wall, head of the School of Law at Leeds University, appeared oblivious to: "Before you tick the neutral, disagree or strongly disagree boxes, just think about the message that it will send to the world outside about the quality of your education at Leeds," he warned students in the school's most recent newsletter.

To ensure that students grasped the point, he went on: "We want to be able to say that we are one of the top ten law schools in the country... it is in your power to make that happen in the survey."

Leeds has issued a statement acknowledging that Professor Wall's advice was "overenthusiastic". Alan Pearman, pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching, said: "This is a valuable survey, and we have given students every encouragement to take part... We asked all our schools to encourage students to complete the questionnaire; but we certainly didn't seek to influence what students said."

The offending newsletter has now been taken off line.

Last year's National Student Survey, the first to be compiled by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, had widespread publicity. The law school at Leeds came in the bottom five in two categories - assessment and feedback and academic support. The school's newsletter was part of an attempt to improve communication with students.

A spokesman for Hefce said: "If we discover unexpected patterns after looking at the results of the survey, we would decide what, if any, action to take after carefully considering what they represent."

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