Monday, 2 July 2007

In this week's Times Higher the front page highlights a new initiative by the British Council to set up a website for overseas students to rate their course.

The Universities are worried, the unions are worried - this generally means that the students will benefit.

There are dangers - naming and shaming courses can harmful but if the courses gave good value for money and an excellent education which is surely the aim of a course then the good Universities and courses will have nothing to worry about.

In fact, this was one of the motivations of this blog - to cut through the advertising and hype and to provide real information. Granted there is an emphasis on University and course rankings but this is because, in the real world, when applying for jobs the reputation of a University and indeed it's location matters.

The most interesting part of the article in my opinion is that is suggests that Chinese students in particular tend to place a great deal of emphasis on "word of mouth" against advertising or rankings. In a sense this is good news and incentivises course leaders to provide a good service and not to simply treat overseas students as "cash cows" (alluded to in the article).

Finally, comes the suggestion that Chinese students may receive better tuition and supervision at those Universities below the elite level. I believe there may be some truth in this - ultimately the "feedback" website would allow us to judge. Those Universities who provide the best education should be rewarded with increases in student numbers whereas those Universities that trade on reputation alone deserve to see numbers fall.

It will be interesting to see if this initiative gets off the ground.

My bold emphasis.
Foreign students need a site that lets them evaluate their experience, British Council is told. Olga Wojtas reports

Academics could see their departments named and shamed by their students on a new international ratings website under a proposal to the British Council.

A recommendation to set up the site, which would allow all international students to describe their experience at UK universities just like consumers rate hotels or holidays, is made in a report to the British Council this week by Greg Philo, research director of the Glasgow University Media Unit.

The idea has alarmed the lecturers' union. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "People are far more likely to tell friends and colleagues about bad experiences than good ones. We would have concerns about the motives of some people posting on a site like this.

Online gossip might seem harmless enough. However, it can lead to online bullying and malicious rumours spreading across campus."

Professor Philo's report focuses on the 50,000 Chinese students studying in the UK. It found that when they choose a course they value word of mouth over sources of information such as advertising and league tables.

"You can't beat people's direct speech in terms of getting people to trust what they say," he said.

The research is based on the views of 40 interviewees in China and 120 Chinese students in the UK and suggests that a website would help shake up the traditional university hierarchies.

Some students complained about their supervisors and felt they could be better looked after in mid-ranking universities compared with elite universities, where top researchers were too busy for them. Some 69 per cent thought they had been recruited as "cash cows" but generally accepted this. A similar proportion said their course was good value for money.

Almost two thirds said their experience in the UK was "good" or "very good", while only 29 per cent rated their education in China as "good" or "very good".

"They found higher education very creative and very original. It was a very cherished experience," said Professor Philo.

Beatrice Merrick, director of services and research at UKCOSA, the council for international education, said: "Two students on the same course may have completely different experiences. If the disgruntled one posts comments, there's no balancing view. Students should look at all possible sources, and word of mouth is valuable, but there's a risk of disproportionately negative comments appearing."

The following posts may be of interest:

Ten Reasons Why You Should Study in the UK
Econphd Ranking of "Economics departments"

Studying "Economics in the UK": General Links

Which UK University to study in? "Academic Ranking of World Universities"

Studying in the UK: Cost of Accommodation

World University Rankings: Rankings and text

"UK University Ranking": large city effect


Anonymous said...

This seems like an excellent idea to me, what do others think?

anonymous said...

I agree. An excellent way forward

Anonymous said...

Finally, someone that tells the truth about University education. Take this idea forward!