Universities should be about learning, not satisfaction

Another year, another National Student Survey (NSS) has been published. The NSS asks students about different aspects of their university experience, and then ranks universities for overall ‘student satisfaction’ levels.

The NSS has been widely criticised. Tutors say universities use the results for performance reviews, and as justification to shut down courses and modules. The National Union of Students boycotted it this year, for fear of NSS results being used as a reason to raise tuition fees.

But the real problem with the NSS is that it panders to the idea that universities should keep students ‘satisfied’. The survey often focuses on wellbeing – how students feel and what amenities there are on campus. It gives no meaningful indication of how good universities are at teaching students what they’re there to learn.

University is a stressful time – that’s the way it should be. Russell Group universities often score lower in the NSS, because they tend to be more intellectually demanding – hence, more students whinge about being ‘stressed’. As such, universities are now expected to babysit students, as well as educate them.

As a student, I’m constantly asked to fill out surveys. Finished a module? Fill out a survey. Finished a year? Fill out a survey. Students are quizzed on their students’ unions, accommodation, professors and even the food in the canteen. The truth is, hardly anyone bothers with this meaningless bureaucracy. Students often have to be bribed to fill out the NSS, in the form of extra credits or even bags of sweets.

Universities should be focused on achieving academic excellence. Surveys like the NSS turn universities into spaces where students demand to be emotionally comfortable, rather than academically challenged. The NSS is not only pointless, it’s open to being abused by those who hate the idea that university should be about education, not satisfaction.

Ieuan Joy is a writer and student.

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