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YUSU to hold referendum on National Student Survey boycott

Image credit: the NUS
Image credit: the NUS
Image credit: the National Union of Students

The University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) will hold a referendum on whether the union should commit to a nationwide boycott of the National Student Survey.

The  students’ union announced today that the students’ union would hold a campus-based referendum on whether YUSU should support a boycott of the survey, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS).

Campaigning will commence on the 25th of January and the voting period will be between the 30th of January and the 6th of February. Details are yet to emerge on the existence of official campaign groups. There will also be a referendum debate on the 30th of January.

James Humpish, Policy Review Coordinator, commented:

The question of whether YUSU should support a boycott of the NSS was originally supposed to be included in the current policy review. Once the policy pack was released, the officer group considered the time-sensitivity of the issue and voted that it went to referendum as is their prerogative. In any case, it will be the student body as a whole that determine the result and I look forward to an engaging debate, campaigning and voting.

The National Union of Students is leading a boycott of the National Student Survey, claiming that the survey results will be used by the British government to permit academic institutions to increase the fees students pay for tuition.

The NUS argues that, through the Teaching Excellence Framework, which measures universities in a rankings system, the government is engineering a “forced market of institutions charging higher different prices for degrees” which will “increase inequality both in terms of students entering [higher education] and their graduate prospects.” In addition to a rise in tuition fees, the Framework “could also damage the reputation of your university and in future devalue your degree,” the national union writes in a leaflet.

The NUS leaflet recommends that students ignore the National Student Survey, described as a key element of how universities score highly in the Teaching Excellence Framework, refusing to use their “voice to be used to damage the reputation of your institution, devalue your degree and raise fees.” It continues:

The fewer students who fill in the NSS, the more the TEF is damaged. We are sending a strong message to the government: we will not be complicit with your agenda and our feedback won’t be used against us.

Launched in 2005, the National Student Survey is a nationwide survey intended for final-year undergraduate students. Respondents are asked a number of questions relating to their experience of their degree. According to the NSS website, approximately 3,000,000 in numerous academic institutions across the country have responded to the survey.

The NSS is maintained by the independent think tank Ipsos MORI. The NSS is carried out to provide prospective students’ with current students’ opinions to help them make their choices about their further education, to assist universities in improving and developing their courses based on student responses, and to “contribute to the public accountability of higher education.”

In a joint statement, the NUS President Malia Bouattia and the General Secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, claimed

that linking the TEF to an increase in fees will only lead to a worse deal for students. The introduction of the TEF in its proposed form will accelerate the marketisation of our sector, entrench inequality and damage the UK’s academic reputation.

At its national conference earlier this year, the NUS discussed whether a boycott or an act of self-described “sabotage” would be a more effective challenge to the NSS. Comparing the two, an NUS report writes that

sabotage directly impacts on the results of the NSS. Marking questions 1-12 with “definitely disagree” will pull down an institution’s satisfaction score on these questions, which is the percentage of responses agreeing with a particular statement.

However, the boycott has not received universal acclaim. Writing for the Daily Telegraph in December, the News Editor of student newspaper Exepose Georgia Roberts claimed that the NUS is exaggerating the role of the student survey, stating that the NUS “does not mention that a mixture of metrical evidence, additional submissions of other evidence of excellence and contextual data will be used to inform the TEF decision on an institution’s ratings.” She concludes:

Don’t like the TEF proposals? Articulate your criticism – of which there should be plenty of with this scheme – instead of angrily boycotting and exiting the debate altogether. Acts of ‘sabotage’ have no place in debate.

The full announcement on YUSU’s blog can be read at http://www.yusu.org/blogs/2017/january/national-student-survey-referendum-on-a-proposed-boycott.