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Concerns raised after University of Edinburgh students asked to rate their lecturers in surveys

ByMolly Little

Apr 5, 2017

The University and College Union have expressed concern over a decision by the University of Edinburgh to introduce course questionnaires asking students to rate members of teaching staff.

Previously, course questionnaires were issued at the end of each semester and asked students to rate different aspects of a course, including the overall quality of teaching but not specific lecturers.

The University and College Union (UCU) have criticised the practice, arguing that students cannot be considered objective and their evaluation of lecturers may be affected by personal agendas rather than the actual quality of teaching.

The National Student Survey released data last year which highlighted that students who were taught by ethnic minority academics were less likely to rate their courses positively, raising questions of equality and fairness.

A similar bias towards female lecturers was expressed by Anne Boring, a post-doctoral researcher at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Mary Senior, a UCU Scotland official, expressed in Edinburgh Evening News that members of the UCU branch at the University of Edinburgh are highly concerned over the individual staff members being rated by students for the purpose of performance monitoring.

She stated: “There is a real danger that we are moving to a position where we see students as consumers and customer satisfaction surveys are being used to make decisions on the careers of university staff, with scant regard for academic standards.”

Senior also highlighted the importance of academic staff being able to judge a student’s work on its academic quality without being concerned that they may receive a poor rating.

The University of Edinburgh have defended the decision, claiming the concept has been developed over the last decade and is essential to maintaining and improving high quality teaching.

A spokeswoman for the University told Edinburgh Evening News that course questionnaires are central to student engagement and improving levels of student satisfaction. 

“They provide insights that can be used to better understand and enhance learning, teaching and assessment. We welcome constructive comments that will help course organisers understand and address any relevant issues.

“The data is used to highlight and share [the] best practice,” she said.

Image: Kay Williams

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