Oxford left out of National Student Survey results after major boycott

NUS claims a major victory against the government’s higher education policy

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Oxford has been left out of this year’s National Student Survey (NSS), after a nationwide boycott in protest over the teaching excellence framework.

Only 31 per cent of Oxford finalists completed the survey, joining peers at Cambridge, Manchester and Sheffield who were also omitted from the results thanks to a turnout below the necessary 50 per cent response rate.

Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU) was one of many student bodies around the UK to join the boycott. It followed a decision to boycott the NSS by the National Union of Students (NUS), amid fears that it would be used to justify increases in tuition across the country. The NUS described the NSS as part of the government’s “draconian reforms to higher education.”

The NSS became a central element of the government’s higher education policy, when it was announced the survey would be used alongside graduate employment statistics to determine the standards of teaching at UK institutions through the Teaching Excellence Framework.

It was claimed by student activists that the NSS could therefore be used to further “marketisation” in the Higher Education sector, and implement different tuition fees for different universities based on their TEF ranking (Gold, Silver, or Bronze).

A spokesperson for Oxford University told Cherwell: “Despite this year’s low response rate as a result of the student union-led NSS boycott, we are pleased to see that the vast majority of those students who did respond were satisfied with the teaching they received and their overall university experience.

“The feedback we receive from the NSS is valuable, and we regularly engage with students and staff to address those areas in which there is room for improvement.”

In a statement, the NUS, who organised the boycott, said: “Figures released today demonstrate just how easily this data can be skewed and how unreliable they are as a measure of teaching quality within this framework.”

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Senior Lecturer in Higher Education at King’s College London, Doctor Camille Kandiko Howson said: “If you can say the quality of the data is poor, then it brings into question the integrity of the TEF.”

The NSS boycott was first debated at the the NUS annual conference in 2016, after the government revealed student satisfaction scores recorded in the survey could be used as a key component of TEF metrics.

Anastazja Oppenheim, one of the prime orchestrator of the campaign, declared at the conference: “if students, en masse, either refuse to fill in the surveys at all or sabotage it… the results would become of little use and would wreck plans for the TEF.”

Today, in light of the boycott’s success, she told Cherwell: “The fight needs to continue and, building on the experiences of this past year, we can make the boycott in 2018 even more effective.

“Our campaign has already won some concessions, such as delaying the link between the TEF and fees. But we must organise, resist, and wreck the survey until the TEF is scrapped and the Higher Education reforms withdrawn.”

Nationwide, turnout decreased by 4 per cent, as other UK universities declined to join the NUS’ boycott of the NSS. Among student bodies who completed the survey, results show satisfaction is highest at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, and lowest at the London School of Economics (LSE), with a score of 75 per cent.

Overall, average student satisfaction in the UK has shown a decline from 86 per cent in 2016 to 84 per cent in this year’s National Student Survey. However, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has insisted that the NSS results for 2017 cannot be compared with previous years because of a radical overhaul in assessment methods.

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