Why you Should Care about being Bribed to do the NSS Survey with Hot Drinks
It’s not quite worth a uni cafe filter coffee.
In case you haven't heard, every year the National Student Survey (or NSS) is launched and finalists are urged to participate. It appears on the surface as something very harmless, a way to assess student experience at a university. But it isn't, for the third year in a row CUSU are calling for students to boycott it.
The boycott has had a significant impact on the survey in recent years, with last year only 18% of students filling it in in 2018. When the survery has under 50% participation the NSS doesn't publish the results and they can't be used as they're invalid. Following the examples of other years it is likely that this can be achieved again.
So, why are they asking this? The survey has been linked in the last three years to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The results from the survey are part of the data that helps contribute towards the TEF ranking system which would put UK universities into categories of gold, silver and bronze in addition to the various pre-existing ranking systems.
Again, what's so harmful about this? The issue is that these ranking systems are then likely to be used by the government when deciding which universities should have the ability to raise their tuition fees. It would mean that some of the best institutions (read: Cambridge) could raise their fees up to £12,000 by 2020 and there's no promise that these fee levels could become uncapped.
'But it's just a bit more student debt, who cares?' I hear you say. To begin, a extra £8,250 debt plus interest isn't exactly 'a bit more debt' and in comparison to other countries around the world the UK has some of the highest university fees. To put them higher still seems unnecessary in that context. On top of this, the very idea of raising the fees of the best universities seems a blatant access issue; if you're from a low income family and get offers from two universities, one gold and one silver, there could be a temptation to opt for the later for the sake of saving yourself nearly 10 grand worth of debt. This goes against any access initiative the university has ever pushed for.
The fact that they are promising coffee in return for a response just feels uncomfortable. The university is aware that with the students the survey is now unpopular – they would have to just look at participation rates to understand that. So they are putting expensive advertising around the university to promote it and encouraging lecturers to plug it, including the suggestion here that there could be a 'dedicated' slide at the end of every powerpoint presentation about it. Offering out free coffee and tea is part of this. If anything, this seems like a bit of a last chance saloon. 'Students love coffee' I can hear something suggesting as the university again decided initiatives around this hot drink is the best way forward. (Yes, looking at you promoting keep cups whilst holding unethical investments)
However, hopefully the offer of a sidge buttery hot drink is not enough to tempt you fill out a survey that will help add to the increased marketisation of universities. Our education is crucial and should not be something that is controlled by the whims of private markets. Boycotting the survey helps tell the university, and the government in general, that as a student body we're not complicit with it. And especially that students can't be bribed by a soya milk filter coffee.