The National Union of Students, after an extensive consultation with activist groups and students’ unions across the country, has announced a campaign to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) this academic year. One of the primary groups leading the charge for a boycott is the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, to which we recently voted to formally affiliate with.
The National Student Survey is a questionnaire that students in the final year of their undergraduate degrees are encouraged to fill out. The call to boycott the survey is based on two calculations:
- The NSS forms a key part of the government’s higher education reforms (particularly the hated TEF; those universities which score highly will be allowed to raise tuition fees even higher), which are being fought by groups all across the country. If we can sabotage this key mechanism, it will give us leverage in our struggle to smash the reforms.
- The NSS is a seriously flawed metric in itself. It is supposed to measure teaching quality, but in reality the data is garbage. As Joanna Williams puts it in the Guardian, “Just as high IQ scores tell us more about a person’s ability to pass IQ tests than they do about their intelligence, so the high NSS results tell us more about the sector’s ability to perform well in satisfaction surveys than the quality of what happens within universities.” A series of crude questions cannot measure the qualitative, liberating and intangible benefits of education. The survey encourages lecturers not to challenge their students preconceptions, to ‘play it safe’ in the name of ‘student satisfaction’; it reflects implicit biases and prejudices of students, who tend to mark lectures of colour lower than their white colleagues; and, most fundamentally, it represents a fragmented notion of collectivity. Instead of democratically discussing the quality of our education, with extensive information and reflection, it encourages a knee-jerk 2-minute series of answers, performed in consumerist solitude with no collective discussion.
We will be pushing hard to get students to boycott the NSS this year. The university will be pushing students not to; students will be bribed with money on their Eating at Warwick cards, pizza parties and the chance of winning iPads. Such short term rewards will pale in comparison to the savage impacts these higher education reforms will have on our society have if they go through.
This fight will be a long one. Nationally, right-wing sabbs are trying a bureaucratic manoeuvre to sabotage the campaign before it begins, pushing for a ballot on a lengthy and pointless ‘risk assessment’ of the boycott. Overcoming such obstacles will take effort, organisation, and unity: as does any significant and worthwhile campaign. The struggle continues!