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Oxford SU calls for students to boycott the National Student Survey

Oxford SU has urged final-year students to boycott the National Student Survey, amidst concerns that it contributes towards creating a competitive market of education.

Oxford SU has encouraged students to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS), owing to concerns that it would contribute towards the marketisation of higher education.

The NSS is conducted each year by Ipsos MORI to measure student satisfaction among final-year undergraduate students. The information gained is used to rank universities in some commercially produced league tables.

The survey is managed by the Office for Students (an independent regulator of higher education sponsored by the Department for Education).

Since 2017, the Oxford SU has joined other universities in boycotting the NSS due to its ties to the Department for Education’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). In the past, the NSS has been one of the metrics used to inform the TEF, which awarded universities a ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’, or ‘Bronze’ rating based on teaching standards. Earning a TEF award allows universities to charge the maximum £9,250 yearly tuition fees for full time courses. Initially, it was proposed that a TEF award would have enabled top performing universities to raise their undergraduate tuition fees above the current £9,250 limit.  The call for boycott raises concerns that, while the TEF is now under review, and domestic fees are currently capped, the future of the TEF and its ties to the NSS are unclear.

The Oxford SU website states that: “data gathered from the NSS is used to rank universities against each other, which can create a competitive market of education”. The SU maintains that this damages the quality of education as it may encourage universities to stream money into quick fixes to boost student satisfaction. NSS results also do not take in to account non-academic facets of the student experience, such as equality or welfare.

The SU website also asserts that both the NSS and the TEF have been “linked to courses and funding being cut” and to staff sacking.

In the past, Oxford students have successfully boycotted the NSS, with the response rate for the university failing to reach the 50 per cent minimum threshold for the survey.

To join the boycott of the NSS this year, the Oxford SU recommends that students ignore any emails or calls regarding the survey.

Defenders of the NSS claim that the survey is a way for students to express their opinions about their course. The University of Oxford website states that feedback from the NSS “not only contributes to improvements in the facilities, resources and teaching on offer to current students, but also helps prospective students choose the right institution and course for them”.

Oxford SU, however, insists that students can make their views known to the university through other channels, including collegiate and departmental surveys, the central University’s Student Barometer survey, common rooms, course representatives, and the SU.