The Oxford Student Union has launched its annual boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS).
Since 2005, the NSS asks final year university students in the UK about their education, work and wellbeing experiences every year. The anonymous survey, under the guidance of the Office for Students (a third-party regulator of higher education sponsored by the Department of Education), includes questions on student learning, career, internships and placement supports, and general wellbeing.
A notable absence from this year’s survey, compared to the past two, are questions relating to how COVID-19 has affected students’ experiences.
Results from the NSS inform the commercially-produced University League Tables and are shared with universities and the public.
A main point of contention in the past, and the motivator for starting the boycott in 2017, was the survey’s links to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Historically, the TEF could have permitted higher-performing universities to charge above the £9250 fee cap.
In part due to the success of boycotts across the UK, mostly in Russell group universities, the TEF is no longer linked to fees.
Furthermore, a tuition freeze was put in place by the government in 2019. However, Safa Sadouzi, SU VP Access and Academic Affairs, notes that “while the future of government policy remains so unclear, we must send a strong message that we will not take part in this marketised point-scoring until we have more clarity on the future of the higher education policy.”
The SU also claims that competition fostered by the survey and league tables encourages universities to fund quick-fix solutions in order to improve perceived student satisfaction without tackling root causes. As well, past data has raised a variety of questions, notably regarding the survey’s negative appraisal of minority academics and innovative teaching.
A successful boycott of the NSS requires fewer than 50% of a university’s final year students to respond to the survey, and less than ten members of each course. This year, the SU hopes that Oxford will meet this target for the fourth time.
As Sadouzi states, taking part in the boycott is quite simple: “Just ignore the emails and phone calls from [theNSS] and encourage others to do the same”.
Those who have already filled out the survey can still rescind their responses by emailing the organizers of the NSS.
Anvee Bhutani, SU President, underscores the importance of participating in the boycott, as it “not only affects [current students] but also those who may become students in the future”. The SU highlights that there are already a variety of alternative surveys at the University, department and college-level, including the Oxford Internal Student Barometer. Furthermore, other platforms allow students to voice their concerns and provide feedback on their university experience, including the SU itself, common rooms and subject reps.
The survey closes near the end of April and results are typically published in July. It is at this stage that the SU will see whether they have met the 50% threshold and completed a successful boycott.