At a meeting of student council on Wednesday at Worcester College, Oxford SU voted to boycott the NSS survey. The motion calling for a boycott required a two thirds majority and gained 75% of the vote, with 59 votes in favour of the motion and 20 against.
The motion was proposed by Tom Zagoria, former OULC co-chair and third year undergraduate at St Anne’s College. It notes that over the past year the government has introduced a series of reforms to higher education, including the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and mandates the Sabbatical team to “promote a boycott of the NSS 2018 and in future years until the reforms are withdrawn”.
The TEF was introduced by the Government in 2016 as a pilot and “aims to recognise and reward excellence in teaching, learning and outcomes, and to help inform prospective student choice”. It ranks universities Bronze, Silver or Gold using a set of metrics which includes the NSS survey. However, the weighting of the survey in TEF this year has been halved. Campaigners against tuition fees argue that the TEF allows universities that rankly highly to increase their fees thereby making those universities less accessible to pupils from poorer backgrounds.
Last year, Oxford SU’s campaign to boycott the survey resulted in response rates dropping from 51% to 31%, making the results from the university unusable as they require a 50% response rate at minimum.
An amendment to the motion was proposed by Catherine Canning, Oxford SU VP for Access and Academic Affairs, which would have effectively replaced the motion and not called for a boycott “in order to create capacity to prioritise other campaigns that better serve the interests of Oxford Students”. The amendment required a simple 50% majority to pass but only achieved 32% of the vote.
During the meeting, reasons against the boycott centred mainly around the strain on resources and time that a boycott campaign would place on the SU. It was also noted that the government has currently frozen tuition fees at £9,250. Proponents of the original motion countered that this freeze is only temporary, pending review.
A further argument made was that the SU would not need to have a boycott of the same intensity as last year as many students would already be aware of the NSS survey and the implications of responding to it. It was suggested that student volunteers would also contribute to raising awareness of the boycott. However, Tom Barringer, Oxford SU VP for Charities and Community, stated that the SU could not afford to have an unsuccessful boycott so would need to put vast resources into the campaign.
Kate Cole, President of the SU, made it clear after the vote that, despite having argued against the boycott, the Sabbatical Officers would “put everything into this”.
Rida Vaquas, seconder of the motion and Campaigns Officer of OULC, gave the following statement to the Oxford Student: “The NSS is a flawed metric, which contributes to the marketisation of our higher education system, and has already been linked to job cuts and course closures at other universities. The boycott last year forced the government on the backfoot, suspending the link between the TEF and rising tuition fees for now. We need to keep the pressure up, and organise to scrap the TEF altogether.”
At the same meeting, a motion was passed to approve the Liberation Vision as SU policy. The motion stated that the Liberation Vision “clearly defines Oxford SU’s objectives, recommendations and priorities with regards to work on equality, diversity and liberation.”