Wednesday, 16 September 2009

I get e-mail

Got this today, sent out to academic and academic-related staff in my department:

Dear All,

Please find attached NSS results by Faculty, School and JACS Level 3 subjects. Also included is a mapping document to accompany the JACS report to assist you in understanding which programmes of study are included under each heading. The Word document, 'APPENDIX 06-Surveys - NSS Table EPS.doc' shows the data that will be included in the OPR documentation.

Please note that the data is FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY.

I have no idea what NSS, JACS or OPR mean, so this e-mail makes no sense to me whatsoever. I seem to be getting an increasing number of these things, all with acronyms I've never heard of.


Dr Aust said...

Well, being an ageing tenured hack I am able to advise you that NSS is the National Student Survey, Paul. But even I was baffled by the other acronyms.

I think the explanation of "JACS level 3" is probably to be found somewhere here. A bit of further digging reveals that OPR seems likely to mean "Operational Performance Review", though I'm not sure that makes it any clearer.

Two messages that come from all this:

First, British Univs are seemingly employing ever more admin policy wonks whose job is to generate such memos, and (more importantly) to have meetings with others of their ilk, and bods from the VC's private office, to generate strategic documents about "closing the NSS-OPR loop". Documents which, needless to say, will set new standards in turgidness and impenetrability and which no-one apart from them will ever read.

Second, a hearty welcome, in your senior postdoc and aspirant academic guise, to the wonderful world of "customer feedback" and "academic quality audit"!

With respect to the first, it sounds ever more like the NHS stuff Mrs Dr Aust, Dr Crippen and Dr Grumble regularly tell me about.

With respect to the second, there is still time to get some other kind of job...

Neuroskeptic said...

The NSS is indeed the National Student Survey. It's sent to all students when they graduate. It's a bit of a joke in my experience, response rates are generally around 50% (higher at some places, lower at others e.g. Oxford), a lot of them go straight into the bin.

Paul Wilson said...

Cheers for the information does seem as though the NSS is being taken very seriously by us, as I had another e-mail suggesting areas of concern that were being targeted for improvement.

It doesn't directly affect me as I don't teach any undergraduate courses, luckily enough.

Dr Aust said...

Apart from bad ratings in NSS having the chance of making the newspapers and generating bad publicity, they also have a large effect on the "University league tables" that all the broadsheet newspapers compile. These league tables have news value in turn, and also (Universities commonly believe) influence prospective students and their parents.

There are also specific reasons why the U of M might be especially nervous about all this. One obvious one is that, post the UofM / UMIST merger, they feel they are rather "under the microscope".

Neuroskeptic said...

Here's the 2009 league table, you will note that various universities (inc. Oxford) are not listed as they had a <50% response rate.

Also don't forget about the Kingston University scandal last year when Kingston told students to give good feedback on the NSS.

I am absolutely sure that they are not the only uni to have done that, they can't be. They are just the ones who got caught.

Paul Wilson said...


Judging by Neuroskeptic's link, U of M is doing pretty miserably in the rankings, which might explain why there's a lot of e-mail about it heading my way...