“A clicktivists dream – boycott the NSS today!”
Many of you might have received emails promoting the NSS, the National Student Survey, asking you to vote for a charity to which your department will donate £3 per filled-in survey (some departments will even donate more depending on the percentage of students who fill in the survey) and promising you another £5 on your Eating @ Warwick Card for your feedback on your course. And what’s not to like, right?
My department will donate to the Warwick Cancer Research Centre. Surely a noble cause?
But wait! Wasn’t there something about the NSS and the Higher Education Reforms? Something about higher tuition fees?
Yep, the data from the NSS will play a key role in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a crucial part of the governments disastrous Higher Education Reforms, which will lead to increased marketisation of our education and make it easer for private providers to award degrees. The TEF claims to measure teaching quality and will rank universities into gold, silver and bronze categories. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to go to an institution where the teaching quality is outstanding? Except that neither the NSS nor the TEF actually measure what they claim to do. Your satisfaction with your course does not necessarily say anything about the teaching, your lecturer might have delivered excellent classes and make you think out of the box, but students who don’t like to be challenged might give them a bad rating. Research has also shown that (sometimes unconscious) student bias based on e.g. the ethnicity of their lecturer influence how they rate their teachers. Other metrics that will go into the TEF are graduate employment and salary, again something that has little to do with teaching quality, as the decision which job someone works in is a very complex one and is not exclusively dependent on the course they studied. In fact, another study has found that NSS scores are entirely unrelated to teaching quality.
So the NSS and the TEF don’t measure teaching quality – but what makes them so bad?
According to their rank in the TEF, universities will be allowed to further increase their tuition fees and by 2020, some institutions might charge more than £12,000 for home undergraduate students with no guarantee that tuition fees might become uncapped in the near future. And obviously, the TEF is not an isolated scheme, but it is part of the governments HE reforms, which come with a whole lot of other dangerous and harmful consequences to education; essentially the end of public higher education as we know it.
So when your department sends you an email claiming that the NSS is fundamentally about you and your relationship to your department, do not be fooled! If your department wants to be “the best possible department in which to be a student”, then this will not be achieved through you filling in the NSS!
If you have something to say about your course, make use of the countless already existing channels for student feedback, talk to your tutors, talk to your SSLCs, talk to the SU…
Higher fees and increased marketisation will not make your department better. And it is not worth those £3 to a “charity of your choice”. Imagine all the money you can donate to charity for the higher fees you won’t have to pay! And it is not worth £5 on your Eating @ Warwick Card either. Again, imagine all the food you could buy if you didn’t have to pay (higher) tuition fees! Those bribes are dishonest, and they show that our departments do not really care about honest feedback. Because if they did, they would not bribe you, distorting the responses they get.
Don’t let yourself be guilt-tripped. Don’t let them make you think the NSS is charitable. And do not let yourself be bribed either. Pledge to boycott today!