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Neither Teaching Qualifications nor Elite Research Valued by Students, Study Finds

A new research study by Professors Adrian Bell & Chris Brooks at the Henley Business School’s ICMA Centre has found that there is no link between any measure of student satisfaction in the National Student Survey (NSS) and the percentage of staff who hold formal teaching qualifications such as membership of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), although the authors noted a paucity of available data on this variable.

The study also found that overall satisfaction is negatively correlated with the percentage of top-rated research produced by the institution, suggesting that students do not value research-led teaching and encouraging the increasing trend towards the separation of research and teaching functions between distinct faculty.

The National Student Survey (NSS) measures satisfaction and the resulting scores are used both by Universities as KPIs and by the major University league tables. Despite this, no previous studies have tried to define and quantify the main drivers of this widely reported student satisfaction for all UK Universities, although arguments are made in support of the qualities of teaching qualifications and research-informed teaching as major influencers.

The ICMA Centre study – which is the first quantitative analysis of the drivers of student satisfaction as measured by the NSS – used a database comprising all course collections at all UK universities (a little over 4000) and also examined the links with the profiles of the staff teaching on those courses using data from the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA).

Satisfaction is also lower at both Russell group universities and at post-1992 universities than those who are not part of either grouping. Professor Adrian Bell, one of the authors of the study, commented, ‘it appears that the squeezed middle universities are delivering the best student experience after accounting for other factors in the model, although it is not clear that prioritising both teaching and research is sustainable.’ The study also found that satisfaction was greater when the proportion of faculty holding doctorates is high and when the percentage of full professors is high, and, more troublingly, when the percentage of white faculty is high.

The research concludes that the biases students exhibit when they complete the questionnaire, combined with its other disadvantages, place a serious question mark over the desirability of the increasing and uncritical prominence of such data in national league tables and the putative Teaching Excellence Framework.

The research featured on the editorial and front cover of the Times Higher Education magazine, focusing on one element of the findings. View the THE story online here.

Click here to download the full paper on SSRN

Professor Adrian Bell

Research Dean, Prosperity and Resilience
Published 22 January 2016
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