Students urged to inflate national survey marks to improve job options

'No one will employ you if they think your degree is shit,' says Kingston lecturer. Melanie Newman writes

May 15, 2008

A lecturer advised students to inflate the marks they give their university in the National Student Survey or risk losing out in the jobs market.

Fiona Barlow-Brown, a senior lecturer in psychology at Kingston University, told students that the survey was important because it feeds into league tables. "If Kingston comes bottom, the bottom line is that no one is going to want to employ you because they'll think your degree is shit," she said.

She suggested that students should inflate Kingston's scores because they were also in competition for jobs with peers studying at other institutions. "If you think something is a four (out of five), give it a five because that's what everybody else is doing," she said.

Dr Barlow-Brown's comments follow a number of cases in which universities have been accused of trying to manipulate the results of the NSS in their favour.

Earlier this year, Times Higher Education reported that staff in London Metropolitan University's Business School had been instructed to show a slide to students explaining that their response in the NSS would "impact on the reputation of your university ... and your award".

Also this year, Mike Thorn, the vice-chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University, wrote to all staff, saying: "We need to ensure that students are aware of the relation between the grades that they give (in the NSS) and, thanks to league tables, the perceived value of their degrees."

Several Kingston students are understood to have complained to the vice-chancellor about Dr Barlow-Brown's comments, which were tape-recorded.

During the discussion, she also stated that Kingston's poor results in the NSS for the quality of its feedback to students was "bizarre" and suggested that students might not have understood what was meant by feedback.

"At every seminar you have, you get some interactive feedback. If I ask a question and nobody answers and I start banging my head on the table, then that is feedback," she said.

Urging students to fill in the survey, the lecturer warned that if they did not, Ipsos MORI, the firm conducting the survey, "will hound you until you do".

Mary Stuart, the deputy vice-chancellor, said: "We believe this to be an isolated incident and regret the inappropriate comments made to students about the National Student Survey, even if these remarks were not intended to be taken entirely literally.

"As soon as we were alerted to this allegation, we investigated the matter and looked at ways to ensure that such a mistake was not repeated. We have kept the Higher Education Funding Council for England fully informed about our investigation.

"Kingston University liaised extensively with the student union in the run-up to the National Student Survey, and together we prepared a number of joint communication materials informing staff and students about the NSS process."

Professor Stuart added: "In all these communications it was made clear that staff should explain how the NSS was implemented and the reasons for completing the survey, but that they should encourage students to be honest in their response and should not in any way attempt to influence what they said.

"In future, the university plans to introduce an agreed script about the NSS that will be widely circulated to students and staff to avoid any repeat of this incident."

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