Finalists: Do not complete the National Student Survey

If you do, you’re letting number-crunching analysts kill academia


There’s a group of paid interns who are hungry for your thoughts. If you don’t respond to their first email, they’ll email you again. And again. And they’ll keep emailing you.

Eventually, depending what details you’ve handed over when you registered with uni, they’ll probably text you. Then ring your home phone.

They really are ever so keen to get a hold of you. “It’ll only take 10 minutes. You can just tell me the answers, it won’t take long.”

After a final, fairly harmless, phone call, they’ll check a box next to your name, file your responses, and you’ll both move on.

They’re from the National Student Survey – and their job is to ruin your lecturers’ lives.

Don't enter the survey

Don’t enter the survey

Because what for you is ten minutes on the phone or clicking through an email circular, for the greatest minds in this country is the sword of Damocles, dangling over their livelihoods.

It’s an intelligent if uncharismatic expert packing her office into a box because her lectures weren’t “engaging” enough, according to a spreadsheet of people who probably didn’t attend half of them.

It’s a professor who’s published five books, pulling into his drive in tears, banging his hands on the steering wheel as he wonders how he’ll tell his wife he’s been sacked for straying too far from his PowerPoint.

The NSS ask you about fairly airy-fairy stuff. How have your contact hours been? Did you have enough lecturers? On a scale of 1 to 5 how much did you get out of those lectures?

You brainlessly answer, giving everything about a four, throwing in the odd threes to mix it up a bit. Little do you know how these survey stats get added to everyone else’s and used to bully the people who make higher education what it is into “hitting targets” .

The NSS decides where your uni sits in most league tables. And where you sit in the league table is the only thing which matters to a lot of the faceless decision-makers high up in your uni – the ones who swing the axe when it comes to “making efficiency savings” and calculating “what makes most sense for the department”.

If you haven't, then don't

If you haven’t, then don’t

It’s a much more high-stakes decision with the £9000 fees hanging in the balance – all the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed sixth formers bickering how Warwick’s better than Birmingham because “it’s seven places higher in the Good University Guide” (trust me kids – go there. It isn’t.)

And yet it’s everywhere. Posters, emails, texts, flyers, all telling finalists to do the NSS. Sussex Uni are offering £5 off your parking if you fill it out. Is it because The Guardian’s university league table is so heavily weighted on NSS results? Don’t be silly – of course they care what you think.

Universities are supposed to be for the public good – home to the greatest minds in the country, imparting knowledge to the nation’s best and brightest. If you go to one these days you’re seen as a “consumer of the higher education experience” (thanks for the soundbite Lord Mandelson). If you fill out the NSS, you’re tacitly accepting this as the status quo. Did you come to university to be a consumer? Or because you’re clever and want to be cleverer?

In America – where, uni chiefs here hate to be reminded, they beat us in international league tables all the time – the dons and academics sit at the top of the pyramid. At Harvard and Stanford, the professor is king. They don’t bristle at the whims of administrators – because the administrators know how important their brains are. You shouldn’t bully a genius, you should put them in charge.

If you want the future of academia to be decided by a bunch of management consultants in plate-glass rooms, hanging the people who teach you out to dry because they didn’t get enough “strongly agrees”, then by all means fill out the NSS.

But if you came to university because you wanted to learn from the best, you really should be telling them to go fuck themselves.