This week, Oxford students have taken part in a nationwide boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) in an effort to undermine the government’s controversial new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
The boycott is being coordinated by the National Union of Students (NUS), with the support of the Oxford University Students’ Union and numerous college JCRs.
OUSU’s recommendation to boycott the survey has been circulated via email to finalists in a number of colleges including Wadham, Pembroke, and St. Catherine’s.
Those organising and supporting the boycott hope a lack of responses will undermine the NSS, and in turn the TEF.
The scores generated by the NSS have long been used to rank universities.
However, Universities minister Jo Johnson now wishes to use them as a key component of the TEF, which assesses the standard of university teaching based on graduate destinations, drop-our rates, and NSS scores.
The TEF will award universities one of three medals: Gold, Silver, or Bronze. The NUS believes these medals will be used to “create a false market” and allow more highly ranked universities to charge increased tuition fees.
Many Oxford finalists are declining Pro Vice-Chancellor Sarah Whatmore’s invitation to complete the NSS, with some colleges already voting in favour of the NUS/OUSU boycott.
OUSU Vice President for Academic Affairs and Access Eden Bailey told Cherwell: “if a 50 per cent participation rate is not reached, the data cannot be used as a metric in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)… Not only do these metrics fail to measure ‘teaching excellence’, and the University’s own Education Committee have said as much, but we are strongly opposed to the TEF as it is primarily a mechanism for increasing and diff erentiating fees.
“The system of differentiated tuition fees TEF is designed to introduce not only entrenches the principle that only the wealthiest should have access to high quality education, but in practice would make Oxford even more inaccessible for the least socioeconomically privileged. Debt aversion already disproportionately deters groups who are underrepresented at Oxford, including working class and BME prospective students, from coming to university. If Oxford were to charge even higher fees than other universities, this would undoubtedly exacerbate the existing inequality.”
President of Hertford College JCR Ava Scott told Cherwell: “As a college with a history of progressive access policies, we voted to boycott the NSS. We believe its use to calculate the TEF is regressive and detrimental to our access policy. By boycotting, we hope to reduce its legitimacy as a metric for increasing fees.”
The Wadham College Student Union will be holding a vote on the boycott this Sunday. Last term, the college voted to condemn the entire Teaching Excellence Framework, so a pro-boycott result is expected.
Prominent members of the SU committee have expressed support for the boycott in a personal capacity.
Last year, over 400,000 students nationwide were invited to complete the NSS with an 80 per cent response rate. It is unclear what affect the boycott will have.
In response to the boycott, a spokesperson for the University told Cherwell: “In common with other UK universities, we write to our students every year to make them aware of the National Student Survey (NSS). We have been working with colleagues from across the collegiate University, and with OUSU, to secure a strong response to the NSS, as we genuinely value the feedback we receive from students. This exercise is entirely unrelated to the Teaching Excellence Framework.
“The NSS allows students to tell us what they liked and didn’t like about their time at Oxford, giving us valuable feedback as we seek to improve the student experience. Additionally, if more than 50 per cent of our students respond, the results are published on the Unistats website, which is linked to the UCAS website and allows students thinking of applying to Oxford to see what previous students thought of their time here.”
Students across the country have been encouraged to complete the National Student Survey, because a degree from a higher scoring university may potentially increase job prospects.
As in previous years, more material incentives have also been offered by the Oxford.
Exeter College third year Will Jarrett said: “It is insulting that the organisers are attempting to bribe our cooperation with the offer of ‘Oxford University branded hooded sweatshirts’ for twenty five respondents. It is outrageous that they believe the future of UK education could be sold so cheaply.”
OUSU has made clear that they are not opposed to measuring student satisfaction in principle, but that they believe NSS is a flawed system.
Oxford offers alternative measurements of satisfaction such as the Student Barometer, which are not linked to the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework.
Sandy Downs, OUSU’s VP for Welfare and Equal Opportunities, told Cherwell: “As we were mandated in OUSU Council last year, we’ll be campaigning for students to avoid the NSS, and focusing on other ways of collecting student feedback.”
Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson and Pro Vice-Chancellor for education Professor Sarah Whatmore have been contacted for comment.