During the Annual General Meeting it was proposed that the Students' Union boycott the NSS in-line with the current NUS policy. With that in mind the question being asked during this referendum is:
The National Student Survey (NSS) is an annual survey targeted at final year undergraduates, which measures the level of student satisfaction with their education at the end of their degrees. The survey data, which is collected independently by Ipsos Mori, feeds into a number of university rankings, alongside other information such as cost of courses, graduate employment opportunities and the student to staff ratio.
For the first time this year the results of the NSS are going to be used as part of an aggregate rating in the government’s new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to award universities either gold, silver or bronze status. TEF is a relatively complex assessment framework but, in simple terms, those universities achieving better ratings will be allowed to charge more in tuition fees as follows:
- In year one (2016/17) and two (2017/18) of the TEF, universities that are rated as bronze, which is classed as ‘meeting expectations’, will be able to raise their tuition fees in line with inflation.
- In year three (2018/19) there will be two fee levels:
- Universities rated as bronze (meeting expectations) can raise their fees by up to 50% of the inflationary uplift.
- Those with a rating of silver (excellent) or gold (outstanding) can raise their fees by up to 100% of the inflationary uplift.
- Universities will not be able to charge more than the maximum capped amount, this means that any changes to tuition fees under the TEF will not be higher than inflation.
More information on TEF can be found here.
National Union of Students (NUS) is campaigning against any rise in fees and has therefore decided to boycott the NSS. The boycott is intended to cover all of the UK including higher education courses which take place in FE institutions. A number of Universities have already joined the NUS campaign and Royal Holloway Students’ Union has received a motion at the recent Annual General Meeting on 21 February 2017, calling for the Students’ Union to join the boycott.
As a Students’ Union we exist to effectively represent our students. For this reason we are calling a referendum to ensure the entire student population has a say in making the decision. The question being put to referendum is as follows:
The Students’ Union should boycott the NSS and actively discourage students of Royal Holloway from completing the survey. Yes or no?
To help you make a more informed decision before you vote, please read some of the arguments for and against a boycott below.
Reasons to boycott the NSS
i. Commercialisation of education
It is argued that once the NSS is used as a metric to inform the TEF it will become implicated in the commercialisation of education. Universities already incentivise the completion of the NSS through freebie giveaways while simultaneously putting pressure on students to complete the survey by warning that failure to do so will impact their future job prospects should the University fail to score highly and thus drop down the league tables. By boycotting the NSS, the NUS believes that students might undermine the TEF and derail the connected fee rises and continued push towards a commercial higher education sector in the UK.
ii. Linking of tuition fees and teaching quality
The NUS is opposed to the linking of tuition fees with ‘teaching quality’. The NSS is used as a measure of student satisfaction, and not the quality of teaching. With data from the NSS set to be one of the key metrics used in the TEF there is concern that instead of improving teaching, a higher score in the TEF could be achieved by admitting students from backgrounds who are statistically more likely to get higher paid jobs. Alongside the NSS scores the Government will also use measures such as dropout rates, graduate destinations and salaries to measure teaching standards – metrics which opponents of the TEF feel have very little to do with actual teaching quality.
iii. Fair access to education
The move to differentiated fees for home students across the UK could have implications for fair access to education. Good quality education should not only be an option for those who can afford it. The ramifications of the TEF go beyond students this year but to the heart of who can be a student in the future.
Reasons not to boycott the NSS
i. Less money for teaching and services
Fewer students taking part in the completion of the NSS at Royal Holloway may result in the University’s NSS results not being published (results are only published where at least half of all students on a course have responded). If Royal Holloway’s NSS result was not published, it would mean Royal Holloway would not appear in many university league tables leaving prospective students with less comparative information when deciding where to study. This would almost certainly reduce the number of students who decide to study at Royal Holloway – meaning less money for teaching and services.
ii. NSS results incentivise universities to work harder
The NSS has been around since 2005, long before the current Government or the proposed TEF. The NSS exists to make universities work harder to satisfy students, and the statistics suggest that it works: here at Royal Holloway student satisfaction has been improving steadily since it was introduced. NSS results can be a catalyst for major reforms within various aspects of university life. Nationally, the NSS has put contact hours firmly on the agenda across the sector. Similarly schedules for the return of feedback on assignments, and equally the form and quality of feedback. Here at Royal Holloway the responses of students through NSS have led to positive changes including the building of the new Emily Wilding Davison Building and the creation of the Boilerhouse Café.
iii. NSS questions have changed and academic experience is more prominent
This year, the NSS has been refocused with nine questions specifically around students’ academic experience, assessment, feedback and learning resources. This will be mean that improving education will get more recognition, focus and potentially funding. By encouraging students to boycott the survey, we will be restricting the ability for students’ voices to be heard in this area.