The thesis has two aims. First to conceptualise the meaning of the idea and practice of 'student feedback' on teaching and learning in higher education (HE). Second, to assess the effectiveness of 'student feedback' in respect of both students' and lecturers' communicative relations and needs and the aims of the contemporary HE policy agenda. Students and lecturers from a variety of HE institutions and subject disciplines were interviewed about their own perceptions and experiences of the purpose, process and demands of 'student feedback'. Analyses and discussion of these data are structured in respect of conclusions drawn from a comprehensive and critical appraisal of the intentions, assumptions and values expressed within HE government policy texts and documents issued by HE statutory agencies in the period 1987-1997. In these texts the idea and practice of 'student feedback' is located within a set of aims symbolised by, and implemented through, the concept 'quality'. 'Quality' is used to progress:
- efficient and effective management of HE institutions;
- a reorientation of academic cultures, practices and values;
- the reduction of professional autonomy, power and control through enforced institutional and national accountability procedures;
- the representation and empowerment of the student as 'customer';
- a reorientation of the purpose of (the) higher education (curriculum);
- summative and formative evaluation of professional practice in HE teaching.
The thesis finds that the student evaluation questionnaire (SEQ) is the dominant method used to elicit students' views on teaching and learning; it is also the subject of greatest interest within empirical research and management texts. The methodological and epistemological premises of the SEQ are compatible with the concept and strategy of 'quality' expressed in HE policy. The SEQ meets the explicit requirements of institutional and national accountability procedures and the practical exigencies consequent on the implementation of these requirements within institutions. Analysis of students' and lecturers' views on the communicative value of the SEQ highlights its inadequacies in respect of dialogue, expression and explanation. Analysis also stresses how students and lecturers experience teaching-learning as a complex, contingent, social and contextual process. Discussion illustrates how the SEQ generates conflict, divisions and tension both at an inter-personal level and within the educational process, and is also a reductionist evaluative practice that is experienced as unhelpful, confusing and disempowering. Lecturers and students associate the SEQ with the 'quality' agenda; narratives in which the SEQ is perceived as a bureaucratic, management-enforced burden on time and administrative resources relate to the controversial nature of this agenda, and yet also conflate with the negative experience of the SEQ. Analysis and discussion expose the letter of policy and statutory texts as legitimating rhetoric, and reveal both the contradictions in, and the inadequate conceptual basis of, the 'quality' agenda. Key issues are: the conditions that provide for student voice and empowerment within decision making and educational processes of teaching- learning; the commitment, values and motivations that underpin and progress professionalism and professional practice in teaching; and, the conditions that provide for support, development and reassurance within the formative activities of both student learning and the enhancement of teaching practice.