Posted on Wed 25 Jan 2017 at 11:22 by Christopher Carter
As outlined previously by Luke and voted for in last term’s referendum, the SU is currently urging Final-Year students not to fill in this year’s National Student Survey (NSS).
We know that many of you may have reservations or be unsure of exactly what this entails, so included below are a few answers to the most commonly-asked questions related to the NSS Boycott!
“Why boycott the NSS?”
For some time now, students and University staff across the country have shown significant opposition to a new government initiative called the ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF). The TEF will see fees go up, with some Universities becoming more expensive than others.
To work, the TEF relies partly on data provided by students through the NSS. If we make that data unusable, we make the TEF unworkable.
“Why is the TEF a bad thing?”
The TEF forces universities to compete like they’re in a market, battling for a Bronze, Silver or Gold award - and institutions with higher awards will be allowed to charge higher fees. Not only will tuition fees (and, of course, student debt) therefore keep increasing for everyone, it goes without saying that higher fees do not necessarily equate with better quality teaching.
“How is the NSS linked to tuition fee rises?”
Among other dubious metrics, the TEF uses Final-Year students’ responses to the National Student Survey (NSS) to determine whether a University can increase its tuition fees. Under proposed guidelines, a University that satisfies the TEF criteria year-on-year would also be able to raise fees annually.
If under 50% of students fill out the NSS, our data can’t be used for that year. Even a drop of just 10% in numbers completing the survey can be used to send a clear message to the government that students will fight the TEF every step of the way.
“What do you mean when you say that our degrees will be devalued by the TEF?”
Currently, it is looking likely that Warwick will be ranked Silver in the next TEF. In one projected TEF model, Warwick will place at #52 nationally.
Many of you will have decided to study at Warwick as a result of its reputation. In one fell swoop, that prestige just diminished significantly. Given that it is unlikely to change materially in the coming years, the quality of education you receive here at Warwick will therefore become massively undervalued by the TEF. For several years now, we have been the most-targeted University by graduate employers – however, with the advent of the TEF, this can no longer be guaranteed.
“Why is the SU against quality teaching?!”
I can state emphatically that we are not – in fact, quite the opposite! We demand the best-quality education for students on a daily basis, which is why we run the independent Course Rep system to gather your feedback and push for improvements. We are standing opposed to these reforms because they do not measure teaching quality, and as such are not fit-for-purpose.
If the Government and the University truly valued teaching quality and feedback, they would deploy best practice of collecting feedback from students whenever it is appropriate, then facilitating open and honest discussion to get qualitative data across the entire institution. This is not what happens with an annual survey such as the NSS, whose scores are often used to bully academic departments or threaten Students’ Unions with budget cuts. Not only do NSS results place your own teachers under additional stress, it can be used to take away your voice as a student.
The Government knows that universities already scrabble to get good scores in the NSS - not necessarily by improving the student experience or teaching quality, but by gaming the survey and investing in cynical marketing schemes and ‘incentives’ (read: bribes) to improve their score. If nothing else, opting out of communications related to the NSS will mean that you aren’t subject to innumerable attempts by the University and research agency Ipsos Mori to spam you into completing it!
“But isn’t the point of the NSS to assess teaching quality?”
The NSS does not actually assess teaching quality at all; it assesses student satisfaction with their overall university experience. What the Government is doing is taking a flawed survey - one that doesn't actually provide in-depth data, and which tries to assess an entire sector of diverse institutions using blanket metrics - and equating these results to teaching quality. This is especially detrimental to a University like Warwick, which is heavily research-driven.
“Won’t a boycott affect Warwick’s position in the league tables?”
No – the NSS is unlikely to affect where the University appears in league tables. Student Satisfaction (as measured by the NSS) is just one of a range of metrics used in calculating overall rankings. The vast majority of data comes instead from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which is not affected by the NSS. League tables are not based on response rates, which is what will be affected by the boycott.
“Isn’t there something else you could do instead?”
No - we have exhausted all the democratic channels available to us. Here at Warwick, we have repeatedly outlined our concerns to Senior Management, passed policy and called an Extraordinary Meeting of the University Senate to discuss this issue. SUs around the country have lobbied MPs, while thousands of students marched in protest last November. Students have even occupied buildings on campus. Our concerns have gone unheeded, and the NSS is the one tool we have left to reject higher tuition fees.
“Won’t this action affect Warwick disproportionately?”
No – this is part of a national campaign in which 25 other Students’ Unions are currently taking part (including Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, UCL and other Russell Group universities). This number looks set to rise in the coming weeks as more SUs hold referenda on the issue. Warwick students will join thousands of others participating in this boycott across the country, and could play a significant role in the national outcome. As always, we are much stronger together than apart!
“Beyond the fees issue, what difference will this make in the long-term?”
The marketisation of Higher Education in the UK has become so pervasive that we no longer question its existence – when in fact, alternative models exist in other countries and a university education was free up until the dawn of the millennium.
As a result of tuition fees, we have encountered a massive sea-change in students’ thinking. Fees, above all else, essentially act as a disciplinary tool: they are a means of suppressing independent thought and dissent. Because if students have the spectre of debt constantly hanging over us and are forced to attach a price tag to every single lecture, seminar or course mark, is it any wonder that we have become terrified to break out of a narrowly-proscribed path?
But there is an additional effect here - something far more insidious. Since the turn of the century, we have seen a steady decrease in student engagement in the many opportunities afforded to them by their time at university. We’ve seen a decrease in participation and engagement for its own sake, rather than as an addendum to our CVs - a decrease in pure enjoyment. No longer is a university education a gateway to self-discovery, to finding your place in the world and building communities. It’s about one thing: pure self-advancement, at the expense of all else.
That is the vision of a society which exists to enrich and benefit only a privileged few. It is bad for our mental health and collective wellbeing, and it is not the solution to the many problems we are all set to face in coming decades given the current scale of global change.
We are asking for just one minute (not to mention the valuable time you’ll save by not filling out the survey!) to help current and future generations of students by pledging to BOYCOTT the NSS.
Your support will help to keep the conversation going, and could even help to prevent further fee rises for your peers and friends in lower year-groups. But perhaps more importantly, it will force both current and future Governments to think twice before blithely lying to and taking advantage of students - as they have done ever since tuition fees were introduced in 1998. By keeping up the pressure and forcing a change of course in the thinking around Higher Education, it could even act as a corrective for our own families in the future.
Don’t let the conditions we’ve all suffered through as students be the fate of others – sign up and boycott the NSS today.