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BUCU Calls for an MEQ Boycott
The University of Birmingham branch of the University and College Union (BUCU) has called for all students to boycott the completion of upcoming Module Evaluation Questionnaires (MEQs)
The recognised trade union for academic and related staff at UoB claims that negative student feedback is being used by university management to ‘pursue disciplinary proceedings’ and substantiate ‘threats of dismissal’ against course tutors.
In an open letter to UoB students published on November 22nd, the BUCU allege that, although critical responses from students are ‘made in good faith’, senior officials at the university use ‘selected comments’ from MEQs to justify investigating staff without any formal complaints or the permission of the student who completed the questionnaire. The union believes that this is ‘counterproductive to positive and constructive relationships between staff and students’.
“The BUCU allege that, although critical responses from students are ‘made in good faith’, senior officials at the university use ‘selected comments’ from MEQs to justify investigating staff without any formal complaints or the permission of the student who completed the questionnaire
MEQs, many of which have begun to arrive through student email from the start of week ten, are voluntary and formalised end-of-term surveys used by the university to gauge elements that students enjoyed or think need improving on modules taken during the semester. This anonymous constructive criticism is designed to enable convenors to adjust and revise these modules for future students.
However, due to their reported findings, the BUCU has called for all ‘negative text comments which could be interpreted as complaints’ to be channelled through student reps or tutors instead. The union ask for feedback about any individual lecturer to be emailed to the member of staff directly with the subject line, ‘In Confidence and For Your Personal Attention Only’. They encourage students to complete only the numerical scoring element of the MEQs if they wish to provide feedback through the questionnaire system.
The BUCU maintain that this call ‘is in no way meant to restrict or censor the ability of students to provide feedback which we regard as essential in our continuous development of teaching delivery. We remain fully devoted to support students to achieve their personal best during their studies and to maintain a positive and constructive relationship between students and staff’.
Speaking to Redbrick, Dr Roland Brandstaetter, the president of the BUCU, said: ‘The call for an MEQ boycott is a last resort to put any possible protection for staff in place while the students can continue to provide feedback via their student reps and staff-student-committees’.
As the call for a boycott is based on a branch resolution, the union cannot specify how long it will remain active.
A spokesperson for the university has since stated: ‘We really value feedback from students – positive and negative - and would encourage all students to continue to use the range of channels available, including: your representatives on Staff-Student Committees; Module Evaluation Questionnaires (MEQs), and the Students Complaints and Concerns procedure. As students would expect, the University has an obligation to respond to student feedback and address concerns that are raised. There are clear policies about this which are designed to be fair to everyone involved, and which have been agreed with the Birmingham Branch of the University and College Union (BUCU) – the union that represents academic and related staff. It is concerning therefore that BUCU appears to be saying that the University shouldn’t follow up issues reported by students, however serious. This not only goes against our duty of care and our policies, but is also not an approach that we believe students would support.
“UoB: 'We also want to reassure students that the University has never instigated any disciplinary action against academic staff just based on MEQ responses, whether the response is anonymous or named – this is not something we would ever do'
‘MEQ feedback from students is important not only in improving delivery from year to year but also in picking up any omissions or mis-understandings within the module. It is important that students feel confident to provide feedback in the knowledge that it will be heard and acted upon responsibly. We also want to reassure students that the University has never instigated any disciplinary action against academic staff just based on MEQ responses, whether the response is anonymous or named – this is not something we would ever do. This is also the case for anything raised through the Students Complaints and Concerns procedure. Raising a concern or making a complaint does not automatically result in disciplinary proceedings against a member of staff. The procedure is designed to provide a forum for students to raise any issues and discuss concerns; if the allegations were of a serious nature then of course a separate decision about whether to commence a more formal investigation would take place.
‘We would encourage students to continue to have their say and provide feedback through our various channels on teaching and learning, and their wider experience’.
Both the university and the BUCU have highlighted that the correct procedure for formal complaints against university staff is outlined in the Code of Practice for Student Concerns and Complaints, which is available on UoB’s website.