All university workers need to get behind the student boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) if we are serious about defending public higher education.
Why? Because the results of the NSS lie at the heart of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the flagship policy of the Tory government’s Higher Education Bill and its wide ranging agenda of privatisation and marketization.
The TEF claims to measure teaching excellence using big data such as scores in the NSS and graduate employment and earnings. Not only will this be a wholly blunt tool with which to measure real teaching quality, it will also place further bureaucratic burdens upon over-stretched university staff, distracting us from our job as teachers. Its real purpose is to enable an increase in student fees – institutions which score highly in the TEF will be able to raise tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017-19, followed by even higher level fees in 2019-20.
The goal of the NSS boycott is to wreck the data upon which the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will be based. Even before the TEF is introduced, the government and HE managers already rely on the NSS as a crucial tool for the management of higher education and the disciplining of university workers. So an all-out student boycott of the NSS is the most effective strategy we now have to gain the leverage we need to stop the TEF and the higher education reforms as a whole. The joint NUS-UCU demonstration against the Bill on 19th November is most welcome, but given that the bill has already passed its second reading and is supported by the Tory majority in the Commons, we need a plan for action to halt and reverse the reforms if we cannot prevent their parliamentary passage. We can make it impossible to implement, and force the government to backtrack, through the collective action of staff and students in our places of work and learning.
The UCU national congress passed policy to support the boycott and individual UCU branches have also passed motions welcoming the NUS action. In doing so, university workers have taken a bold step, given how much pressure is currently placed upon us to ensure high student participation rates in the NSS due to its importance in university league tables. Often, poor results or low student turn-out for the NSS at a departmental level have led to staff having budgets cut or face bullying from university management. Only a mass nationwide boycott can ensure that low NSS participation rates in 2017 won’t be used against university staff.
We therefore need our union to put its words into action and offer practical and effective support for its members during this boycott.
This should include:
- Making clear to all members that we have the right to say no to advertising the NSS. We also have the right to speak out against university money being spent on bribing students to participate in the survey.
- Demanding that NSS results in 2017 not be used as the basis for determining university internal budgets and allocating resources between departments.
- Demanding that no disciplinary action be taken against apartments with low participation rates in the NSS, on the basis that the results for 2017 are illegitimate.
More info: Check out NUS’s announcement and the call to action from the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts