Thursday, 9 February 2012

Surveying Universities: A Modest Proposal

Apologies to anyone looking for biting Swiftian satire, but this genuinely is a modest proposal - though on the subject of surveying universities rather than on the merits of babies as a food source.

The background
I am drawing near to the end of a project to look at the information behaviour of students at various stages of education; beginning with Key Stage 3 (11 to 14 year olds), and going all the way up to postgraduates.

A key part of the project involved surveying universities in the Midlands and the North of England.  Between us, my colleague (Mary Crowder) and I approached 12 universities with a view to asking them to circulate our survey amongst students and staff.  Responses to our request varied.  All too often however, we got one of two answers.
1) We were told that there was nobody in particular responsible for posting surveys and that we could try Computing Services, Students' Union, Marketing, Student Administration, or various local equivalents; or
2) They already had numerous questionnaires generated by their own staff and students and were concerned that people would get survey fatigue. 

In the end, we got responses from students and staff at five universities.  As an inducement, we offered to enter respondents into a prize draw, with the opportunity to win a £50 Amazon voucher.  At each university, two vouchers were offered to students, and one to lecturers.  The project therefore paid £750 in prizes.  Since the response rate at one university was very low, some students and staff had an extremely high chance of winning.

The modest proposal
I presume that we are not alone in wishing to learn about the views of university staff and students across the UK.  We are also not the only project to offer the inducement of a prize draw.  I suggest therefore, that UK research councils with an interest in educational research should consider setting up a central site on which RCUK-funded researchers can post surveys.  Completion of a survey would qualify a student to enter a draw with prizes provided from Research Council funds.  To enter the site, it would be necessary to log on with an .ac.uk email address.

So far (according to the blogger statistics) this blog has been viewed 3000 times by readers in 16 countries.  If anyone has knowledge of such a scheme within their country, or can suggest ways to elicit opinions of students and staff across Higher Education, I would very much appreciate receiving their comments on this subject.

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