Guardian Survey of Academic Staff

On the Guardian website today are the results of their recent survey of attitudes of staff in UK universities.

In the accompanying article, Nick Hillman of HEPI has said the results need to be treated with caution, and that eh changes in funding post 2012 and subsequent higher fees do not seem to have reduced the pressure in the academy. Since the change in fees did not necessarily mean a change in university income (depending on subject costs and fees charged) then this may not be  altogether surprising. Even where income may have risen, significant amounts have been specter across the sector in recent years on capital projects.

In terms of what staff said then:

  • 37% are unhappy or very unhappy. But 40% are happy or very happy!
  • top three things a university should prioritise ; learning and teaching (52%), research (45%) and  along way back in third, student experience (28%)
  • 48% think teaching is valued,(44% in RG, 53% in post 92)
  • bu only 20% think teaching has become more valued in light of recent reforms
  • 52% think the student experience agenda has led to a fall in academic standards (rising to 56% in the post 92 sector)
  • and 52% of staff in post 92s have felt under pressure to bump up student grades
  • 50% of staff in post 92 s don’t think that universities should increase their student numbers further

Lessons from this?

An area for all of us to be aware of is the feeling that staff may feel pressurised to raise grades. We do a lot of work around raising student attainment, but the bottom line is that we award marks for what has been achieved, not to satisfy some arbitrary number of good degrees. The focus has to be on making sure that we give our students the best possible opportunities to be successful, as we know the usefulness of a higher degree classification when looking for graduate employment.

It’s interesting that staff put the areas for priority as learning and teaching, followed by research, with student experience a long way behind.  This may be explained by the survey result that the “student experience agenda” has led to a fall in academic standards.

I’m not sure I agree with this simplistic approach – just because we are student focused, and making sure that students have the best possible experience when with us (and that includes being challenged as well as supported, through their learning) does not mean a drop in standards. Being prepared to offer a great student experience is not the same as being prepared to give our degrees away.

No-one benefits from a drop in academic standards – the reason degrees are classified, or why their are systems such as GPA, is to provide some level of differentiation, so moving to a position of “all shall have prizes” doesn’t help individual universities, the sector, or most importantly our students.