THE career prospects of Scottish university lecturers are being dictated by students surveys, a union has warned.

The UCU lecturers’ union said the move by Edinburgh University was a damaging marketisation of higher education with students seen as “customers”.

Concerns focus on the fact student opinion may be based on subjective views which are may be persionally motivated and not necessarily related to quality.

However, Edinburgh University said the practice had been developed over the past ten years and provided important information which could be used to improve quality.

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland Official, said the union’s Edinburgh University branch had raised the issue of students “evaluating individual staff members with the resulting data to be made available for performance monitoring and promotions”.

She said: “Universities have used student questionnaires for some time and as learners within universities students absolutely should have their voices heard.

“However, there is a real danger that we’re moving to a position where we see students as consumers and customer satisfaction surveys are being used to make decisions on the careers of university staff, with scant regard for academic standards.

University lecturers need to be able to make decisions on student’s work based on academic merit and not with one eye to how they might be scored in a later survey, particularly if employers then use student surveys to manage them out of the door.”

Ms Senior said female lecturers and those from minority ethnic backgrounds tended to score less highly in student satisfaction surveys raising concerns on equality and fairness.

The use of student surveys to judge the performance of staff was also criticised by student body NUS Scotland, whose president Vonnie Sandlan described it as “creeping marketisation”.

She said: “We reject any measures which pit students against staff in this way. The use of these surveys achieves nothing but turning students into passive consumers in their education.”

However, a spokeswoman for Edinburgh University defended the questionnaires arguing the they were “central” to the commitment to student engagement.

She said: “They provide insights that can be used to better understand and enhance learning, teaching and assessment.

“We welcome constructive comments that will help course organisers understand and address any relevant issues. The data is used to highlight and share best practice.

“We encourage students to be aware of the potential for bias in the completion of questionnaires.”

A spokeswoman at Universities Scotland said there was no desire to shift the status of students from “partners” to “customers”.

She added: “Student surveys don’t replace more formal and collaborative forms of student input into their education.”

She added: “There are many initiatives in place that sit quite apart from student surveys to give equal recognition to the role of teaching within a university and to support and reward staff for the creative and supportive approaches they bring to provide excellent teaching. Universities take their responsibility to equality and diversity very seriously.”