Loughborough University lecturers have refused to release details of module feedback to the student body, Label has learned.
The university is withholding statistics collated from students on the performance of individual lecturers, modules and courses, citing a confidentiality agreement with the University and College Union (UCU) that represents academics.
Questions have been asked why representatives of students cannot be informed about the detailed comments students have made. It has been implied that the statistics would reflect badly on certain academic staff, the reason some students are giving for the refusal to release the data since the end of last summer.
In light of impending £9000 tuition fees, Label understands that the Students' Union wishes to play an increasingly active role in fighting for quality of education and acquiring the students of Loughborough value for money.
Well-placed sources within the student representative body have told Label that the matter is due to be raised at Union Council on November 10.
The Post-92 National Agreement between the UCU and higher education institutions states:
"All lecturers shall be subject to a contractual requirement for staff appraisal and development as detailed in Recommendation 3 of the ACAS Report and as included in Clause 12 of the Agreed Contract of Employment and set out in the Staff Handbook." (Phase One, Clause 8)
The problem comes in Appendix 1, 'Staff Development and Appraisal in the PCFC Sector'. Clause 7, iii. states that access may only be granted to designated and locally agreed upon individuals.
Although this agreement does not specifically apply to Loughborough, it is thought that a locally agreed equivalent was signed agreeing to confidentiality. Loughborough Students' Union is engaged in a battle with the University authorities to get access to the documentation, despite academic staff declining the opportunity to disclose the information.
Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act, 2002), they have managed to acquire the data for a single module. Having requested the data for ‘Exercise Physiology 2’ on July 18, the university on this occasion responded positively on August 16. The Union was already aware however that this particular data set would predominantly be extremely favourable, having collated information from the National Student Survey.
Label understands that the Student Union are considering pursuing this route further, if no other avenue for obtaining the information can be found.
Union President, Rebecca Bridger said:
“I am confident that the information could be acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, but I don’t feel as though this would be reflective of the type of partnership we have with the University. We need to get this information through the proper channels if we are to develop the teaching and learning experience here at Loughborough. We are hopeful that we can get agreement soon.”
The further use of the FOI Act could have widespread ramifications for Loughborough and the entire higher education community. One would imagine it would also be very poor for the University on a public relations front, especially if the fear that the feedback does not reflect positively on certain lecturers or courses proves to be true.
Label contacted Dr Maurice Fitzgerald, who sits on the Loughborough UCU Committee, but he declined to comment at this stage on what he described as a “complex issue”.
The Students' Union believes that to perform its role effectively in fighting for value for money and consumer rights in light of the fee increase, it needs detail on what exactly the students believe needs improving.
Vice-President for Education, Jayde Savage told Label:
“The Students’ Union would prefer not to take the route of producing a ‘Rate My Module’ style website as this would not reflect the partnership the Students' Union has with the University. However I would like to emphasise how important this module feedback is to help maintain the Student Experience at Loughborough when taking into consideration the higher education changes.”
The National Student Survey provides feedback on a course-by-course basis, but as it is conducted at the end of the final year it is of no use to current students and does not provide module-by-module detail.
Module feedback forms provide the relevant parties with detailed student comments on a variety of different factors, from lecturer communication and teaching quality to organisation and the availability of resources.
The government published a consultative White Paper on Higher Education on June 31. Included were two proposals, stated below, which if carried into the parliamentary act would force Loughborough University to succumb to student demands.
“We will expect higher education institutions to provide a standard set of information about their courses, and we will make it easier for prospective students to find and compare this information.
“We encourage higher education institutions to publish anonymised information for prospective and existing students about the teaching qualifications, fellowships and expertise of their teaching staff at all levels.”
The Loughborough Students’ Union Executive ran a consultation entitled ‘Your Lufbra’ last year, asking the student body what they would expect under the new fee structure. It returned three main outcomes: students craved greater transparency, they didn’t want to pay for extras such as books or field trips and finally, they wanted academic representation to be more effective.
Without the more detailed feedback that is provided to the university, it is not possible for the union to effectively hold the university to account. Nor is it realistically possible for it to do the job that its officers are paid to do effectively: that of representing the students of Loughborough.
For in excess of three months, the university has resisted in releasing the complete set, which has been seen by some as an implication that it has something to hide. This however, is merely speculation at this stage. Until the data is made available, Label nor the student body will be any wiser as to the true detail of the student feedback.
Label spoke to Professor Morag Bell, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Teaching at Loughborough University, who confirmed that meetings between Loughborough University, the Lecturers’ Union and the Students’ Union have taken place.
" Please be assured that we are taking the module feedback process extremely seriously. We are committed to ensuring that there is consistency in our practices of feeding back to students across the University.
"Student module feedback is a key issue that we will be following up with Academic Schools during Annual Programme Review in December/January."
What are your views? Do you think students should have greater consumer rights when their course could cost in excess of £30,000? Or do you believe that lecturers' right to confidentiality should come first?
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