Camellia Sinensis (camellia_uk) wrote,
Camellia Sinensis
camellia_uk

I can't get no statisfaction

It's not often that statistics get me up in arms, but this one really grated on me. As part of my work I've been doing some resesarch into the student experience, including whether students feel their experience lives up to their expectations and so on. So, I was interested to listen to this discussion between the NUS president and a guy from the Student Experience Policy Committee, on whether students are satisfied, and if not why not.

The thing that got me steaming was the Student Experience Policy Committee guy claiming that "83% of students are satisfied on their course". Now, this is a figure taken from the National Student Survey, which surveyed universities all across the country, and got reasonably high response rates, so I'm not even going to point out that the percentage is meaningless without a figure for the number that represents (i.e. it's 83% of a pretty high number, not of 10 students who were paid to answer a survey). So why am I annoyed by this figure? Can you spot it, boys and girls?

He claims that "83% of students are satisfied on their course". In fact, all he can really claim is:

  • 83% of students who replied to this survey are satisfied. It may be that miserable people or stressed-out people aren't motivated to respond to long surveys for no money.

  • 83% of final year students who replied to this survey are satisfied. That's right, the survey only asks people who are at the end of their third year whether they are satisfied or not, and unsurprisingly most of them are reasonably satisfied. Well DUH! If you were unsatisfied with your course, you're pretty likely to drop out or transfer to another course long before this stage, aren't you??!

And of course that doesn't even begin to address the question of what it means to be 'satisfied', and whether students would regard themselves as 'just about satisfied overall, but really not happy about a number of things', which is my personal experience of students. I'm not saying they are all utterly miserable, but I think that statistics like this are rather misleading and unhelpful, and that the surveys are designed to produce back-patting figures rather than to identify problems. Really, I'm just not satisfied.
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