Examination of Witnesses (Questions 415
WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL 2009
Q415 Chairman: We are delighted to
have our panel of students with us who have been following events
with great interest on their Twitter sites, their Facebook sites
and, indeed, in their own universities. We welcome Ricky Chotai
from the University of Salford, Carrie Donaghy from Northumbria
University, Alasdair Farquharson from the University of Wolverhampton,
Gemma Jerome from the University of Liverpool, Anand Raja from
the University of Birmingham, and Ed Steward from University College
Londonwho has had to come the least distance this morning.
We thank you very much indeed. One of the things we asked people
during this inquiry was to keep an eye on what was happening in
terms of evidence presented to us, and you have heard some this
morning from leading business organisations. Ricky, you expressed
a number of very strong comments when we met you first of all.
Mr Chotai: Yes.
Q416 Chairman: Given the fact that
you have said you have some thoughts about the evidence we have
received and you have some comments on top-up fees, on research,
the quality of teaching, the National Student Survey, the platform
is yours. But you do not have an hour; you have two minutes. Launch
forth, and perhaps other students would respond as we go alongbecause
we like to get a dialogue going here rather than a very heavy
Mr Chotai: First, I will tackle
the issue top-up fees, which is controversial at the moment and
is still ongoing. I was looking through the evidence, especially
from the vice-chancellors. There was a survey recently where two-thirds
of the vice-chancellors agreed they would, if the fee was to be
lifted then they would look to raise top-up fees. But one of the
points I would like to tie in with this morning's evidencethe
employers were looking for sandwich courses and things like thatis
that most universitiesin fact Salford University is the
only exceptioncharge fees, some half, some full, during
the placement year. Academically, the universities do provide
support services, but I think that from a student point of view
£3,000 is a lot of money for two visits and just the support
that is given. That was one of the reasons why I chose Salford,
because there were no fees. One area of concern is that if those
fees were to be increased, how that would impact on the sandwich
degrees and what line universities would take. Would they still
be charging the full amount? Would they be charging 50%? Fifty
per cent of £9,000 is £4,500, which is a lot of money
for a year in industry. Obviously the wages during that year in
industry are pretty much minimum wage, and taking into account
fees as well, it is a deep consideration for students when they
are looking to apply. Top-up fees is one of the issues that obviously
we are still strongly opposed to because, at the moment, especially
at Salford University, we do not feel that we are getting value
for our money for £3,000, let alone raising it to anything
further. The next was the National Student Survey. Reviewing the
evidence again, I cannot remember directly who was discussing
this. I am sure it was academics and also the vice-chancellors
as well. They were expressing how important it was, but from a
student point of view I wanted to let the Committee know of some
of the tactics that universities are using to encourage students
to fill in the survey. We hear comments such as "Ensure you
don't put bad things because it will affect Salford in the league
tables" or "your university in the league tables"
and "that will have an effect into your employability and
how employees see that in the future." They are using tactics
such as that. I would say that the NSS can be useful but it is
an area of concern as well.
Q417 Chairman: You have raised two
big issues. We will park the first one, but on the second one
I really would like to get some views from the rest of the panel.
Basically you are saying there is pressure put on students in
terms of filling in the student survey.
Mr Chotai: If the university spent
as much time as they do putting pressure on getting students to
fill in an NSS on other areas, such as giving feedback and organisation
within degrees, I think we would have a better student experience
in the first place.
Q418 Chairman: Are there any other
comments on that? Do any of you share those views?
Mr Farquharson: I cannot say I
really share the view that academic staff were deliberately putting
pressure on students to give a positive opinion. Certainly at
the University of Wolverhampton, in the school I am at, which
is the School of Legal Studies, I am and have been for the last
two years the student rep for the entire school, and we have made
it very clear at the Student Union level that the opinions of
students have to be completely independent. As far as I am concerned,
they have been. We have not held back on criticising things when
it was necessary and praising things when it was also necessary.
I do not really think that in every case right across the board,
at every university, academic staff have pressured the students
to give a good opinion of their experience in order that the university
would go up in the league tables.
Ms Jerome: I am slightly concerned
with regards to the NSS, and the student experience being measured
by indicators. Along those lines, some of the transcripts of evidence
suggested that we are experiencing the highest levels of satisfaction
with higher education through the NSS results. I am aware that
if we are measuring student experience by empirical indicators
but simultaneously having a debate about whether we should change
the classification system, there is some discrepancy there as
to how we should be taking students' opinions about their experience
Q419 Chairman: Carrie do you want
to say something?
Ms Donaghy: No, not on that.