NEWS | Sunday, 25 November 2007

Students to grade lecturers

University students will be given the chance to assess the performance of their own lecturers through an on-line form, according to a new system which is to be introduced in the coming months.
This was announced in parliament by Minister Louis Galea when replying to a parliamentary question by Labour MP Carmelo Abela on Monday.
Student on-line forms are just a part of an exercise to strengthen the internal and external quality assurance mechanisms of the university’s programmes.
“External quality assurance shall be provided by an organisation external to the university and this exercise will assess our operations and the validity of our degree programmes,” a spokesperson for the university told MaltaToday.
The university expects that such a process will lead to formal accreditation with prestigious European universities.
But while welcoming the reform’s overall objectives, the lecturers’ union UMASA expressed doubts regarding the priorities, insisting that under-funding, lack of up-to-date books and journals, and the very high ratio of part-time to full-time staff are the real issues undermining the quality of university lecturing.
Through the proposed system, students will be able to fill an on-line form to give feedback on the quality of university programmes and lectures.
“The results will be machine-processed to allow for rapid and efficient data collection and analysis. Moreover, random sampling of students from all faculties, centres and institutes will make the process more scientific,” a spokesperson for the university told MaltaToday.
“Where feedback suggests that there is scope for improvement, the university will ensure that adequate action is taken. This feedback will also serve to show and reinforce areas of good practice,” the same spokesperson told MaltaToday.
Such quality assurance measures enjoy the qualified support of the lecturers’ representative union.
“This is required not just for the undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes, but also for research supervision and the support services offered to the students and the staff,” UMASA spokesperson Prof. Victor Buttigieg told MaltaToday. But the union insists it is not just the delivery of the lecture itself which should be assessed.
According to UMASA, there are many other factors which influence the quality of the service offered to students. These include the availability of a quality support infrastructure, the availability of teaching assistants in the case of large classes; adequate teaching spaces and resources; well-equipped laboratories manned with trained technical staff; and access for student and staff for up-to-date books and research journals.
“Unfortunately, in many of these areas the University is facing problems. For example, in certain faculties, the number of part-time staff far outnumbers the full-time complement and overall there are far too many part-time members of staff.”
Buttigieg also insisted that in order to assure quality tertiary education, an adequate funding level must be guaranteed to the University.
“Unfortunately, University funding is still not tied to student numbers and the type of courses followed, and the University is still under-funded.”
The proposed web-based student feedback is considered by UMASA as only one component of a Quality Assurance Regime.
“One needs to analyse the whole process before one can verify whether or not the stated objectives are being met,” Buttigieg said.

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