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Is Student Feedback Cornerstone of Quality Assurance ? 

Işıl Güney


Questions of student feedback are one of the main concerns of discussions in quality assurance. Studies about student feedback and their contribution to quality abound in the literature. In this sense, the aim of this paper is to analyse the idea of student feedback being the main pillar of quality assurance. It is agreed that student feedback is an integral part of quality assurance and argued that in order for it be effective, it needs to be administered properly and stakeholders should be well integrated into the process.

Key words: student feedback, quality assurance, holistic approach, stakeholders.


In the last few decades, massification of higher education and expansion of higher education institutions resulted in concerns about quality of education. The growing consumerism of higher education led to ever-increasing demands for accountability by public and governments and involvement of students to quality assurance processes. Hence, collecting and analyzing student feedback have become an integral part of quality assurance processes in higher education. With students being the main stakeholders, student feedback has been regarded as “the cornerstone to an efficient quality assurance system” (Nair et al 2010) and become a highly debated issue in quality assurance and enhancement. In that context, the aim of this article is to identify debates and discussions revolving around the concept of student feedback and quality in terms of validity, data collection methods, implementation and stakeholder involvement. It is argued that although student feedback is considered as the key component of quality assurance, its effectiveness depends on how properly it is administered and how well other stakeholders are integrated into this process. To this end, a literature review of articles in the scholarly articles and books in the field of quality and higher education is made.


Student feedbacks are, most frequently, criticized in terms of their validity. Jukka (2014, pg. 197) summarizes the factors affecting the validity of student feedbacks. Firstly, the students’ assessments may be affected by teacher’s charisma, gender, race, age, physical attractiveness and some personal traits. Students may give higher grades to instructors who give higher grades. Secondly, Spooren et.al (2013, pp.609-617) claim that students’ perspective of good teaching might differ from the administrators. Thus, students may reflect their own understanding of good teaching in student teacher evaluation. In a recent study, Bennett and Kane (2014) found out that students having different levels of engagement and study orientations attributed different meanings to questions in the United Kingdom’s National Student Survey. Another problem is that the instruments designed for student evaluation of teaching may not be covering the relevant content about the characteristics of an effective teacher and might fail to measure what it intends to (Spooren et.al, 2013).

That feedback is collected efficiently and effectively is also essential (Lecker and Neill, 2001). Although student feedback can be collected with several methods, questionnaires are most commonly preferred. However, Harvey (2011, pg.7) argues that questionnaires are poor ways of gathering student feedback. Firstly, they provide no clear information to students about the value or use of the data given. Secondly, surveys almost never reflect student concerns and issues, which results in students’ use of open comments for complaints yielding a contradictory result with the closed questions. Finally, surveys do not ask students’ opinions about improvements and they are not involved in the design of the survey. This results in students’ indifference since they know that no action is taken based on the survey results. (2011, pg.7)

Harvey (2011 pg.18) suggests a far more effective means of collecting student feedback for the teaching staff, which is thorough direct dialogue that can take many forms such as face-to-face discussion groups within the classroom, through blogs, online discussion groups or webinars. Yet, the most value forms of receiving feedback is the informal, unprepared feedback in classes, during tutorials, in corridors, during coffee-breaks or through e-mails. He also states that qualitative feedback is far richer and meaningful in terms of improvement purposes than answers from standardised quantitative questionnaires.

How academic staff responds to student feedback is another area of challenge for student feedback. Leckey and Neill (2001) note that academic staff’s skepticism towards student feedbacks stem from their belief in students’ being untrained assessors, feedback system’s imposition by the college hierarchy and its use as a mechanism for control and action by managers. Douglas and Douglas (2006) reiterate the perception of some academic staff that students are not competent to evaluate their skills. In his case study of Seashoal Lows University, Padro (2011) draws attention to the fact that feedback has been used as the primary factor in deciding faculty promotion and tenure, which created dissatisfaction among the faculty and its related university organizations. Another source of discontentment is the lack of incentives or rewards for good teaching whereas there is action by managers in case of poor performance.

However, some studies indicate positive attitudes of academic staff towards student feedback with improved student satisfaction, morale and motivation to change their teaching desire. In their study of the teaching quality in Hong Kong, Massy and French (2001, pg.38) found that academic staff were eager to discuss with students and acted upon student feedback. As Harvey puts it (2011, p17), student’s evaluation of teacher performance has a limited function if it is not administered correctly in that while lecturers become cynical as student evaluations are used for controlling, students become disinterested as they barely get feedback. Thus, it fails to become an improvement-oriented tool.

Another area in student feedback discussions that needs attention is how they are integrated into institutional quality improvement policies and processes. To ensure a sound quality improvement, student feedback data must be processed into useful information within a regular and continuous cycle of analysis, reporting, action and feedback so that it can be used to create change within an institution (Harvey, 2011, pg.5). As Harvey (2011, pg.6.) puts it, the institutions need to have in place a system for this cycle that can identify and delegate responsibility for action; encourage ownership of plans of action, require accountability for action taken or not taken, act upon student feedbacks and informs students about results of feedbacks and commit appropriate sources. To this end, Harvey (2003, pg.4) developed a model of satisfaction cycle which covered the phases of student determined questions, questionnaire distribution, analysis of results, report, noting areas for action, consultation process, action plan, implementation and monitoring, feedback to students. However, in this cycle, there seems to be a gap in many higher education institutions between data collection and effective action, which is termed as “closing the loop” (Neill 2010, pg.25). Powney (1998), who used the concept of closing loops in report about the impact of student feedback on students’ subsequent learning, claims that the loop is seldom closed as students are not given feedback about action resulting from their feedbacks, which ends up with less student participation and skepticism about feedbacks. Moreover, in many cases, collected students feedbacks are not analyzed properly, or turn into a set of statistics and tables, which have little value for action and limited circulation (Neill, 2010, pg.25). Similarly, James Williams (2011, pp.153-154) draws attention to the fact that student satisfaction increases over time when an institution takes real action on data from student feedbacks. Action to be taken should not be attempting to satisfy students’ expectations but to engage students so that realistic solutions for all stakeholders including academic staff can be achieved. Students can be communicated about the results of feedbacks through various channels such as flyers leaflets, bulletin boards, student websites, student radio, student unions.

Student feedbacks are also criticized for ignoring transformative views of learning and taking into account facilities and teaching (Harvey 2011, pg.20). However, Harvey underlines the importance of giving students feedback on their work and learning along with getting feedback from them on their learning environment. He also emphasizes the difference between completing the feedback loop, which means informing students about actions taken after student feedbacks and feedback to students on their work and learning either through commentaries with summative grading or formative assessments (2011, pg.20) Student feedbacks are used for a variety of purposes. Williams and Cappuccini-Ansfield, (2007, p. 171) highlight the different purposes of UK National Student Survey and Student Satisfaction Survey. While NSS paves the way for nation-wide league tabling of institutions comparing them in terms of value for money, the SSS enables mutual feedback processes involving students in the quality processes.


The review and analysis of the literature indicate that student feedback is considered as an integral part of quality assurance process in higher education. As argued by Harvey (2011), one should be cautious in that it is a powerful but not the single only for making changes. However, it affects quality of teaching, improves institutions, and enriches students’ learning and hence, assures and enhances quality. While student feedback is a cornerstone of quality assurance, its effectiveness depends on how well they are administered and how well other stakeholders are integrated into this process.

Integration of stakeholders necessitates freeing feedback from being a one-way direction. Feedback needs to be embedded into dialogue and interaction between students and teachers. Yet, students and teachers are not the only stakeholders in this process. An effective feedback mechanism requires a holistic approach with active involvement of all stakeholders. As discussed by Williams (2011, p.143), in institutions acting upon student feedback, the feedback process is incorporated into the institutional management structure. In their study about how student feedback cycle is managed in higher education context, Roxå and Mårtensson (2011) describe a systemic, well-organized organized method of feedback collection and action where university leadership, program leaders, lecturers and students collaboratively participate. However, the authors make implications for the importance of effective leadership in supporting the process.
This brings one to another challenge which requires active participation of stakeholders at a university; closing the loops when acting upon student feedback. How will the loops in this interaction be closed? What other channels might be used? While some studies (Puteh and Hadina Habil 2014) offer establishment of special units within the universities, others might use student unions, media and informal ways to close the gap. Implications for further study might include what students’ reaction to those channels and feedbacks will be.


Douglas, J. and Douglas, A. (2006) ‘Evaluating teaching quality’, Quality in Higher Education, 12(1), pp. 3–13;

Harvey, L. (2003) Student Feedback [1]. Quality in Higher Education, 9:1, pp.3-20;

Harvey, L. (2011) 'The Nexus of Feedback and Improvement', in Nair, C.S. and Mertova, P (eds.) Student Feedback: The cornerstone to an effective quality assurance system in higher education. Oxford: Chandos;

Jukka, O. (2014) Student Feedback Process in Enhancement of Quality of Higher Education, Handbook of Research on Higher Education. in: Neeta Baporikar (eds) The MENA Region: Policy and Practice. USA: IGI Global;

Leckey J, and Neill N. (2001) Quantifying Quality: The importance of student feedback. Quality in Higher Education, 7:1, pp.19-32;

Powney, J, and Hall, S. (1998) Closing the Loop: The impact of student feedback on students’ subsequent learning, Edinburgh, Scottish Council for Research in Education;

Puteh, M and Habil, H. (2011) Student feedback in higher education: a Malaysian perspective. in: Nair, C and Mertova, P (eds.) Student Feedback: The cornerstone to an effective quality assurance system in higher education. Oxford: Chandos;

Roxå T, and Mårtensson K. (2011) Improving university teaching through student feedback: a critical investigation. in: Nair, C and Mertova, P (eds.) Student Feedback: The cornerstone to an effective quality assurance system in higher education. Oxford: Chandos Publishing;

Spooren P,Brockx B, Mortelmans, D. (2013). On the validity of student evaluation of teaching. Review of Educational Research, pp.1-45 ;

Williams, J and Cappuccini‐Ansfield, G. (2007) Fitness for Purpose? National and Institutional Approaches to Publicising the Student Voice. Quality in Higher Education, 13:2, pp.159-172;

Williams, J. (2011) Action and the feedback cycle. in: Nair, C and Mertova, P (eds.) Student Feedback: The cornerstone to an effective quality assurance system in higher education. Oxford: Chandos Publishing;

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