Kiss Me KISS!

KissAnd… have you already checked out your KISS details? Proudly launched today, the unistats website is supposed to make sense of all the different options that students have – and be the answer to the governments perceived idea that (almost all?) universities somehow are delivering poor value for money – especially when it comes to teaching.
To get straight to the point, I was quite disappointed with the KISS data. Firstly, it seems to rely largely on NSS data – and NSS data is notoriously unreliable. I’m not saying it isn’t relevant data, but it’s neither new, nor particularly insightful when comparing across different institutions with often very different types of students. For example, universities in London do traditionally badly in terms of NSS. My own university, tends to do relatively well on the NSS. But even if you consider “bad” or “good” there is frequently only a few points difference between the good and the bad, which given sometimes low participation numbers may be no more or less than one or two satisfied students. But apart from that, the data is already available, so it seems questionable what showing the data again achieves.
Another feature that the KISS was supposed to do, was to make the choice between universities more transparent. Some of the data may be useful, e.g. employment data when comparing different universities – though it may be hardly surprising that in my unscientific sample of three or four comparisons, post-1992 universities fared less well than pre-1992 unis. However, apart from the raw data, some of the data may also be pretty useless: For example, the website presents percentage figures of time spent in lectures and seminars, and (expected to be engaged) in independent study. This seems to equate that learning only takes place in a classroom setting. Something that seems absurd. In fact, learning inside the classroom in my experience can actually hinder the student actually engaging in some real studying: Take for example PhD students… If a PhD student has the minimum supervision meetings (with us this means 12 a year), and let’s say each meeting lasts for about an hour and a half, then according to the unistat calculation the PhD student spends a mere 1.5% (of the 1200 hours defined as “fulltime” study) having official contact. Does that mean the PhD student does not learn anything? Hardly… as s/he will probably get much more out of the 1.5 hours of individual discussion of their work every month, than, say, a student who is hardly listening to what is being said in the back row of a large lecture theatre, after having been sitting through lectures for a few hours… Giving this sort of figure does not really say anything. Moreover, some people may learn much better by sitting in a lecture theatre, others have a quest for knowledge and learn much better reading material at home? So having an underlying assumption that longer contact hours equates to better learning is simply wrong.
This leads me to question why bother about KISS? Well, it is, of course nice to see that more students are happy at my university than at the university down the road. But then I knew that already. But will it help students make better decisions regarding their course? I sort of doubt that. As a marketer, I just simply think that there are different student “segments”, and while providing some of the numbers in a conveniently accessible place is nice, it will hardly change the suitability (or not) of the product for a particular type of student.

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