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Can social media reviews identify risk in higher education?

Date: June 28 - 2018

Universities and colleges that are rated highly on Facebook and other online review sites tend to do better in more formal measures of learning and teaching, suggests new research published by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).

The Wisdom of Students: Monitoring Quality through Student Reviews, published today, compares publicly available online feedback through Facebook, WhatUni and StudentCrowd with more mainstream measures such as the National Student Survey (NSS), the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), and external reviews of the quality of education provision.

Alex Griffiths, an expert in risk and regulation at the London School of Economics' Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation, is one of the report's authors. He said: “The near real-time, automated monitoring of online feedback provides exciting, student-led insights into quality. What's more it offers universities, colleges and the bodies that oversee them, the ability to quickly identify and act on risks to quality, resulting in a positive student experience.”

The findings mirror Dr Griffiths' work in the healthcare sector, which also found social media ratings were predictors of a healthcare provider's Care Quality Commission assessment outcomes.

The research finds that in general, online feedback about UK universities and colleges is positive. Universities and colleges were assigned a star rating out of five based on the combined social media ratings. The average score over all 210,000 online reviews is high at 4.18 stars. This positive rating aligns with the generally high scores given for overall student satisfaction in the National Student Survey over the course of recent years.

A similar trend is found with the outcomes of the TEF. The average star ratings online were generally highest for providers with a Gold TEF award, followed by Silver-rated providers, and lowest for Bronze.

Will Naylor, Director of Colleges and Alternative Providers at QAA, said: “Quality checks in higher education will always need the judgement of independent experts. However, this report reminds us to keep an open mind particularly when it comes to understanding what students think of teaching, facilities and other services.”

To test if this pattern holds over time, QAA will carry out a pilot with ten higher education providers in the autumn.

Will Naylor continued: “Our pilot will explore the potential to take a new approach to identifying which universities and colleges are most likely to thrive, and which might be a riskier prospect.”

The research gathered over 200,000 reviews from and