Students and Students’ Unions up and down the country are calling for a boycott of the National Students Survey (NSS). This is in response to the governments new Higher Education reforms that plans to use student feedback to increase fees through the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
Under the guise of informing student choice, the TEF was designed to be a measure of ‘Teaching Quality’ in Universities, similar to the Research Excellence Framework (REF). It looks to rank university into Gold, Silver and Bronze, in what is perhaps the worst ‘Olympic Legacy’ proposal to come from the Johnson family to date.
This wouldn’t be bad if it worked for students, however the metrics used by TEF are poor measures of educational quality, and there are large concerns about the legitimacy of the framework. Metrics used in the TEF include;
• How well universities score in the National Student Survey.
• The number of students who drop out of their courses.
• What students end up doing six months after they graduate, including their earnings.
But not only are the measures inadequate, inappropriate and misleading, the government has coupled good scores in the TEF with the ability to increase tuition fees by 3-4%.
Students and academics have been vocal in their opposition to these proposed metrics. However through government consultation, All-Party Parliamentary Group meetings and the lobbying of MPs, it became clear that this was falling on deaf Tory ears, and thus more direct action was proposed.
In April 2016 at NUS National Conference, an amendment to a motion sought to mandate the NUS to take action on the NSS, through an organised boycott or sabotage. This amendment and subsequent motion passed. What followed was a lengthy consultation with Students’ Unions across the UK to shape what the action would look like. In early October the Vice President for Higher Education, Sorana Vieru, and the National President Malia Bouattia, agreed the appropriate action to take would be a flat out boycott.
So why should you boycott the NSS?
It will be used to increase fees year on year.
Universities will be able to raise tuition fees in line with their TEF rating to a currently unknown level. Students who know this and fill it anyway are complicit in fee increases for next year’s undergraduates, and likely within a few years, fee increases for postgraduates too.
It reinforces racism and sexism.
Research shows that students are more likely to rate their lecturers and courses negatively if they are taught by a woman, a person of colour, or someone who is both, whether or not they are aware of it. Institutions with a more diverse staff body will perform negatively because of this.
It doesn’t measure Teaching Quality.
There is no direct correlation between student satisfaction as indicated by a survey, and the quality of teaching at a university.
The TEF is not fit for purpose.
The metrics will not adequately inform students, but will instead inform employers. This promotes the narrative of students as products for the labour market. To measure a student based on their income after graduation is a gross misunderstanding of what Higher Education should be about. We must defend our rights to education for educations sake.
The TEF could tarnish your university’s reputation.
Many institutions are going to be hugely impacted by the outcomes of the TEF, and not positively. Being incorrectly measured on unreflective teaching metrics will damage the reputation of many institutions.
So join the National Union of Students, the Universities and Colleges Union, and the ever growing number of Students’ Unions calling for direct action against the TEF and increased tuition fees: boycott the NSS.
Niall Hamilton is the Education Officer at Reading SU and a member of NUS HE Committee