I’D completed about half of the NSS, or the National Student Survey, before my internet crashed on me. Call it an omen or just a really crappy broadband provider, but the next day, my friend told me about the NSS boycott.
Traditionally, “boycotts” are popular in the small but prematurely mighty world of student politics. Annoyed that your lecturer is always late with essay feedback? Boycott. Pissed off that the price of jägerbombs have gone up by a whole quid at the SU bar? Boycott.
It’s an impulsive action that has low success rates, mostly because the university codes of conduct with which you take issue only exist within the confines of the academic environment which you’ve a.) paid for and b.) as a direct consequence of the former, feel like you have to put up with for the next three years of your life.
The NSS boycott is different in the sense that it is an issue which affects just about everyone in the higher education system- students, teachers, the government officials whacking those hefty price tags onto tuition fees.
Launched in 2005, the National Student Survey (NSS) is an annual survey of all final year undergraduates in the UK. Its intention is to assess the quality of teaching and the degree as a whole, according to the opinion of the student. The results are supposed to help prospective students in deciding where to study, as well as informing ‘positive’ change surrounding areas with the highest rate of student dissatisfaction.
Sounds innocent enough; and there are even rumours of a £10 Amazon voucher if you complete it by its closing in April, which any student with tight purse strings will do just about anything for.
Thousands of students, however, aren’t convinced, and many, including the NUS (The National Union of Students), are calling for a nation-wide boycott of the survey.
Tessa Marshall, a History and Politics student at the University of Kent, said in a Facebook post: “We are calling for all final year students to boycott the National Student Survey which will be used by the government to implement the Higher Education and Research bill & raise tuition fees.”
“We are also asking Kent Union to adopt a boycott of the NSS as policy & encourage all students to reject the unjustified and unnecessary increase in tuition fees.”
The main problem with the NSS is the suggestion that the results will be used to further marketise Higher Education, with higher tuition fees being the detrimental outcome.
“NSS forms part of the Teaching Excellence Framework, which is used by the government to rank institutions, which will now be dubbed ‘gold,’ ‘silver,’ and ‘bronze’ universities dependent on their score,” explains student Bradley Allsop in an article for The Huffington Post.
“along with Olympic-like classifications, the government is proposing that those with a higher rank be allowed to start charging even higher tuition fees.”
It isn’t all about economics, however. There are also concerns over how effective the NSS is at measuring teaching quality and student satisfaction.
NUS have commented that they don’t think student satisfaction statistics accurately represents teaching quality, which makes TEF rankings, in turn, inaccurate.
I must admit, I ignored the dozen or so emails in my inbox asking me to fill out the survey. When my seminar leader asked us politely enough to take some time to complete it, I was almost convinced of its importance. The third or fourth time, however, when another seminar leader said he would leave the room for 15 minutes at the end of class to allow us to complete the survey, dropping all dignity of intelligible English and telling us “it’s just so so so so important for us and you,” (but not explaining how so), I was a little sceptical.
This is not to say that support for the boycott has been unanimous. The University of Kent facebook group ‘Kent: Boycott the NSS’ has an underwhelming 167 members, and many just simply don’t think to boycott the NSS will be worthwhile, whether they agree with it or not.
Rosie McKenna, vice-president of academic representation at Edge Hill university, argued that “voting for an amendment to the TEF motion, rather than completely disengaging with it, would have supported student unions better. It would have meant constructively engaging the government about the metrics we use.”
In an article for The Telegraph, Tom Diver also attacked NUS’ calls to boycott the survey, saying “an NSS boycott is exactly the sort of poorly thought out protest that gives student politics a bad name,” whilst labelling them “rash” and “destructive.”
One thing is for sure- the NSS boycott is another chapter in the seemingly never-ending saga of the battle between students and the political system which more often than not, works against them.