Over the weekend, I came across a story in The Times which deviated from the MP’s expenses which is increasingly leaving a bitter taste. Students across the country were asked to rate the quality of the teaching on the degrees in which they were currently engaged.
These were some of the so-called ‘top’ universities (I’m more than a little sceptical and I can say that with some marginal authority having studied – at least for my first degree – at what would be described as a well regarded ‘old’ university and for my MA at an unreconstructed ex-poly) scratching around at the bottom of the table when current students were asked to rate the quality of the courses they were attending.
The marginally surprising aspect was though that
The bottom courses in the country, however, are three social work degrees — at Swansea, Brunel and Royal Holloway, London, all of which receive satisfaction ratings of less than 50%.
Now, Brunel and Royal Holloway have both suspended their BA courses as a result of criticism from students and the GSCC, as I wrote earlier in the year. So I suppose there is good reason for this dissatisfaction – but still – the worst in the country…
And the Times article could have gone on to say that four of the bottom five are social work courses because Birmingham City scrapes in with a 49% satisfaction rating. Hardly a glowing praise of the training of social workers.
Interestingly, it is actually Swansea that comes in at the very bottom below both of the suspended courses at a stonking 2176th!
Looking through the actual figures (Excel chart of figures) is marginally compelling. The top degree listed as ‘Social Work’ comes in at Kent, followed by Teeside and then Leeds. This is purely on the basis of student satisfaction but it should be an important consideration.
I know both Brunel and Royal Holloway were criticised regarding placements so that is obviously a cause for concern among students. Looking at tables is a good distraction mechanism so I also checked out the Unistats site which pulls information together not only about student satisfaction but also about graduates who are in employment six months after finishing their courses (although the data doesn’t correspond perfectly as the Times article refers to 2007/8 and the Unistats refers to 2006/7).
I’m a little sceptical of these figures for the reasons that I am get nagged by the universities through which I have done my PQ (post qualifying) training to answer surveys about my employment status – which I’m sure ‘cooks the books’ a little because if they are asking work-based post-qualification students about their work status then of course they are going to get ‘higher’ levels of student employment figures!
So with that weighty pinch of salt, it is still interesting seeing the differences in the employment percentiles for the different universities.
I would have suspected a correlation between student satisfaction and ‘employment after six months of graduation’ but it isn’t always there.
Birmingham City, for example, had a 95% employment rate within 6 months of graduation but a 35% satisfaction rate.
And conversely Glasgow Caledonian with her impressive 95% approval rate had only a 20% employment rate.
So clearly figures need to be fleshed out a little.
It is still clear though that at least in some quarters, the quality of the degree taught is paramount. It is not cheap and a significant amount of government money is pushed in the direction of universities. We need to be satisfied that we are getting a proportion of well-educated and competent practitioners as a result.
Going back to the Times reminds us this is not a problem which is exclusive to Social Work students by any means.
Students complain that teaching time is being cut, classes are becoming bigger and postgraduate students are being used as a cheap alternative to lecturers to teach seminars — despite universities taking increasing amounts of money from undergraduates through fees.
It is partly endemic and although I have no expertise in the field of Higher Education – I have teeny suspicion that if more of a qualitative rather than a quantitive approach were taken – there may be a more satisfactory outcome.