It has been claimed that student participation in the National Student Survey (NSS) is higher than it was at this point last year
Mark Leach, editor of WonkHe, claimed in the Higher Education Blog’s weekly newsletter that more students may have taken part in the NSS this year than at this time last year. He suggested that ‘bad publicity is better than no publicity’ for the NSS, but also noted that universities may have promoted the NSS more heavily this year to counteract the impact of the boycott.
The NSS is aimed at final-year undergraduates and consists of 27 questions about their experience studying their course at their institution. Last year, 431,000 students were invited to participate in the survey.
The Independent quoted an NUS spokesperson who said that comments on participation ‘would be based on incomplete information’ because the NSS runs until the end of April. The NSS opened on 6th February, but universities may promote it at different times within the three months it is open for.
The NUS called the boycott of the survey in response to the government’s Higher Education Bill, currently going through the House of Lords. If passed without amendments, the Bill would allow universities to raise fees based on a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) ranking. These rankings would be decided based on a number of factors, including how a university performs in the NSS.
Writing in The Guardian, NUS Vice-President Sorana Vieru justified the boycott by saying ‘we cannot stand by and allow misrepresented student feedback to be used as a sly way of raising tuition fees’.
Back in December, the NUS had announced that ‘70% of students plan to oppose [the TEF], including boycotting the NSS’.
The boycott of the NSS was supported by 25 student unions, including those of both Cambridge and Oxford. The University of Birmingham’s Guild of Students has not taken a position on the issue. In a previous statement to Redbrick, Representation and Resources Officer Brandon Hattiloney said, ‘though we oppose the link between the TEF and increased fees, the Guild has not taken position on this issue and leaves the decision to boycott the NSS up to the conscience of finalists’.
The TEF rankings universities receive this year will use the NUS data from 2014-2016, prompting Leach to claim it will not be until next year’s TEF rankings that it can be established ‘whether the boycott helped NUS’ objectives or led to a spectacular own goal’.