Students are boycotting the National Student Survey to protest raising tuition fees
NSS results are now tied to tuition fees – and students are not happy
What is the NSS?
If you’re a final-year student, you recently received an email asking you to respond to the National Student Survey. It’s likely the more senior of your lecturers have brought the NSS up, too.
Open this year from 8 January to 30 April, the National Student Survey (NSS) has run every year since 2005. Supported by higher education funding bodies like HEFCE, it surveys final year undergrads in the UK, assessing student satisfaction by asking a range of questions about teaching, support, university management, and student experience.
As well as providing feedback to universities and participating colleges, the survey findings are then published on websites like Unistats.co.uk, and typically influence university league table rankings (lets face it, probably the reason you picked your uni).
So why boycott something that tells your university why it’s bad?
For the first time in 2017, NSS findings also majorly contributed to a governmental assessment, the ‘Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework’ (TEF). At the heart of the reforms to higher education, the TEF will allow universities to raise their tuition fees – if it’s decided they’re good enough.
From the ratings universities will be allocated Bronze, Silver or Gold status. The higher the status, the more a university can increase its tuition… and the more it can operate as a business.
The first TEF results were surprising, with many Russell Group universities achieving Bronze status and many low-ranking universities achieving gold. As well as NSS results, TEF results are based on dropout rates and graduate employment stats including salaries, and the data has been heavily criticised for a complex metrics system. The results are based on benchmarks, so that different universities have varying standards to be awarded a certain status. Additionally, it has been found that NSS results reflect racial biases – BME academics typically receive lower scores than their white counterparts.
It is also possible that NSS results are affected by university involvement in the process. A lecturer at Kingston, for example, told students to inflate their scores because "if Kingston comes bottom … no one is going to want to employ you because they'll think your degree is shit". Other universities have taken to bribing students; last year Sussex and Bournemouth students were offered competition entries, food and printing vouchers to take the NSS, and this year Bath Spa offers students between £5-10 for completing the survey, with the offer conveniently beside a link outlining university improvements.
Southampton’s own Vice Chancellor Snowden spoke out against the results, claiming there was “no logic in our result at all”, and that the system is “fundamentally flawed”, after receiving a disappointing Bronze. Alongside a handful of other universities, UoS appealed the result but was rejected.
This year, every UK university signed up to the NSS – although some, including Southampton and Oxford, notably delayed their participation until the very last minute. Although universities could be hurt by poor TEF performance, the extra profits yielded by any TEF status are too tempting in the competitive atmosphere that has been cultivated.
Protesting the NSS
Since its launch university groups and even some students’ unions have opposed the NSS, but the introduction of TEF has seen much more prominent boycotts. In 2016 the NUS made headlines by boycotting the NSS, at least while it feeds into TEF results. As a probable response to the boycott, 12 universities were omitted from the 2017 NSS results due to low participation, rendering the results unusable.
Many student unions are boycotting the NSS this year including Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester. Other notable groups leading the resistance include the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and the NSS Boycott Dank Meme Stash.
If you’ve already submitted your NSS response but are keen to withdraw, send an email with your university and student ID to [email protected]