Edinburgh University students asked to grade their lecturers

Lecturers' careers could be hanging in the balance after students are asked to grade their performance. Picture: Jane Barlow
Lecturers' careers could be hanging in the balance after students are asked to grade their performance. Picture: Jane Barlow
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The careers of university lecturers are hanging in the balance because of grading from students, a union has warned.

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Students at one of Scotland’s oldest universities have been asked to pass judgement on their lecturers.

The move by Edinburgh University has been criticised for seeing a damaging marketisation of higher education with students seen as “customers”.

Concerns raised by the University and College Union(UCU) say that student opinion cannot be considered subjective and they may be personally motivated rather than on the quality of classes.

But Edinburgh University say the practice had been developed over the past 10 years and provided important information that could be used to improve quality.

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland official, said the union’s Edinburgh University branch had raised the issue.

She said: “Universities have used student questionnaires for some time and as learners within universities students absolutely should have their voices heard.

“However, 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.

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“University lecturers need to be able to make decisions on student’s work based on academic merit and not with one eye to how they might be scored in a later survey, particularly if employers then use student surveys to manage them out of the door.”

It was found that female lecturers and those from minority ethnic backgrounds tended to score lower in student satisfaction surveys raising concerns about equality and fairness.

The use of student surveys to judge the performance of staff was also criticised by student body NUS Scotland.

Vonnie Sandlan, president of NUS Scotland, said: “We reject any measures that pit students against staff in this way.”

But a spokeswoman for Edinburgh University defended the questionnaires arguing they were “central” to the commitment to student engagement.

She said: “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 best practice.”

A spokeswoman at Universities Scotland said there was no desire to shift the status of students from “partners” to “customers”.

She said: “There are many initiatives in place that sit quite apart from student surveys to give equal recognition to the role of teaching within a university and to support and reward staff for the creative and supportive approaches they bring to provide excellent teaching.

“Universities take their responsibility to equality and diversity very seriously.”

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