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National Student Survey data to have low impact on TEF awards, says Chair of TEF

Image credit: JACIE
Image credit: JACIE
Image credit: JACIE

The results of the National Student Survey will have a small effect on how universities are judged in the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which would enable them to raise tuition fees, the chairman of the TEF has said.

Quoted in an article for the Times Higher Education website on January 25th, Professor Chris Husbands told the House of Commons on the previous day that student satisfaction ratings would not be the main metric of awarding universities ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’ or ‘Bronze’ ratings in the TEF scheme.

The TEF measures universities in terms of their student satisfaction rates, illustrated by responses to the National Student Survey, but also in other areas, such as the number of students who dropped out of university.

Professor Husbands also indicated that student satisfaction is not necessarily a good way to measure teaching excellence, as some students may answer survey questions albeit with non-academic reasons in mind, for example the physical attractiveness of lecturers. Professor Husbands made reference to satisfaction scores at American universities, which suggest this trend.

On January 25th, the students’ union at the University of Cambridge boycotted the National Student Survey, becoming the twenty-fifth union to do so under a national initiative by the National Union of Students (NUS).

A referendum on the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU)’s position on whether to boycott the NSS is underway. Last week The Yorker approached York’s pro- and anti-boycott sides of the current referendum for comment on Professor Husbands’ statement. Thom Shutt, of the anti-boycott side, responded:

The entire point of the boycott – to strong-arm the government into abandoning TEF and re-evaluating any associated fee rises – was predicated on the idea that the NSS would be the primary metric of the TEF.

Chris Husband’s recent remarks now render any potential boycott of the NSS redundant. The TEF is going ahead regardless, and we now know for definite that the NSS won’t have the effect on fees that the YES side says they will. At this juncture all their efforts would accomplish will be to weaken one of the strongest tools used by universities to improve teaching.

I have seen first-hand the amount of positive work carried out at York as a direct result of feedback gathered through the the NSS and it’s a shame that the YES campaign perseveres knowing full well that all they will do is cause damage.

The pro-boycott side is yet to respond to a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Hannah Grayson.