There are lies, damned lies and teaching statistics: still, University bosses should tread carefully over Heslington East
The age-old dilemma of quality or quantity has presented itself to University of York administrators in recent times. The University is going to get significantly bigger if the planned Heslington East expansion gets the final go-ahead. But can it keep improving at the same time?
Not if some recent league table results are anything to go by. A reassessment of teaching quality figures has seen York plummet from 1st place to 57th. At the same time, York has moved from 8th to 15th place in the Times league table.
Officially, the University isn’t too worried, particularly by the reassessment. And yes, it is just a rehashing of old figures; but with worried staff voicing concerns in Nouse, perhaps it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
It’s worth noting that dissenters from within the University have chosen to remain anonymous. If this is a non-issue, then what are they worried about?
With all the debt involved in doing a degree, value for money is an increasingly important consideration for your average student, and some students don’t feel they’re getting the service they paid for.
I don’t agree with this highly marketised view of education, and I don’t think the quality of a degree course can be measured by the number of teaching hours. However, if standards at York don’t keep pace with other universities then resource allocation has to be questioned, and the Heslington East development can’t escape that questioning.
Perhaps, with more money coming in from top-up fees, it is time to consider whether teaching standards are slipping and, if so, shouldn’t the problems with existing departments be corrected before any more are built?
A couple of reservations must be noted. First, teaching quality is a pretty ephemeral subject to be captured in league tables. The lower positions York now occupies are, in one instance, thanks to the re-interpretation of statistical data and, in the other, only apply to one league table amongst many. Many would question the value of league tables to begin with.
Second, it’s not quite as simple an issue as taking money from construction projects and spending it on teaching. A balance must be struck. In the past, York has figured in the top ten of most newspaper league tables and continues to do extremely well. That should make everyone here proud, but at the same time the University must be vigilant. It has never fared particularly well in comparisons of staff-to-student ratios and per-student spending on facilities and equipment.
This would suggest that York punches above its financial weight, which means it should be even more careful about where money is spent. This is a teaching institution, and the students need to take precedence over business developments and conference facilities. There are complaints that Heslington East is working to a different agenda. If York is to continue being a top university these complaints must be answered.
There’s no point in building Heslington East to secure the future of the University if the present isn’t being properly looked after. Maintaining excellent academic standards is the only way to persuade the brightest and the best students to continue coming here.
So, is the University aiming for size or stature? It looks like the decision to grow outwards has already been made. Let’s hope the University can remain committed to growing upwards at the same time.