Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 415 - 419)



  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 London—who 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 along—because we like to get a dialogue going here rather than a very heavy evidence session.

  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 evidence—the employers were looking for sandwich courses and things like that—is that most universities—in fact Salford University is the only exception—charge 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 at university.

  Q419  Chairman: Carrie do you want to say something?

  Ms Donaghy: No, not on that.

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