National Student Survey - my response

26 August 2010

Chris Smith

Chris Smith

Former Head of Digital Transformation

Satisfying change

Despite some negative reporting on the recent National Student Survey published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England ("The art of joy in short supply at creative colleges, NSS shows" , 19 August), credit must be given to all those hardworking faculty and administrative staff who have ensured that satisfaction levels remain stable. The fact that undergraduates across all levels of university remain upbeat in the face of dwindling employment prospects is further testament to our world-class university system.

I trust Lord Browne's independent review will take into account the NSS findings, but again I urge those responsible for implementing policy to refrain from any knee-jerk decision-making. It's all too easy to make cuts in underperforming areas of a university, but failing to understand the broader context of inefficiency may be damaging in the long run. For example, the NSS highlights potential areas of the student experience that have consistently brought down the overall satisfaction score over the past three years. Functions such as assessment and feedback, academic support and organisation and management have performed consistently below a 75 per cent satisfaction rating. One must question whether this is the fault of staff or if there is an underlying systemic problem?

For me, it is most definitely the latter. The rapid growth in university attendance over the past decade has unfortunately not been matched by strategies for coping with the additional pressures this can bring. When you look at the operational processes and technologies that support the vast majority of universities, you'll soon realise that 20th-century thinking is being applied to a 21st-century problem. Given that tuition fees are increasing and funding cuts are on the horizon, if student satisfaction is to be a measure of success, the entire model of our university system must be aligned to meet this goal. Moreover, while the use of technology to date has been significantly underplayed, it can offer a way to implement much-needed changes in areas such as administration or other back-office functions.

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