Oxford students successfully boycott National Student Survey

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Students at the University of Oxford have successfully boycotted the National Student Survey (NSS) for the third year running, according to results published by the Office for Students on 5 July.

The survey is conducted each year by Ipsos MORI to measure student satisfaction among final-year students. Students at 419 further and higher education institutions in the country are allowed to take part, but 50% of eligible students at each institution must respond in order for their results to be published. Oxford failed to reach that threshold, and did not have student satisfaction figures published as a result.

Data produced by the NSS is used as one of the metrics used to rank universities’ teaching standards as ‘Bronze’, ‘Silver’, or ‘Gold’ under the Department for Education’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Earning a TEF award entitles a university to charge full £9,250 tuition fees, with the full fee increasing in line with inflation each year.

The NSS’s role in allowing tuition fee increases led it to become the subject of a boycott campaign launched by the National Union of Students in January 2017. The campaign has been supported by Oxford SU each year since then, similarly receiving the support of a number of other student unions, including at Cambridge, King’s College London, and Sheffield, as well as the University and College Union representing academic staff.

Oxford’s boycott is set against an otherwise poor performance of the campaign, with only one other Russell Group institution, Cambridge, successfully boycotting the NSS. This compares with the first year of the boycott, 2017, when 12 institutions could not be included in the results, including one-third of the 24 Russell Group universities. The vast majority of British universities are represented in this year’s results.

The NSS’s overall satisfaction score for British students increased to 84% from 83% in 2018. The proportion of students satisfied with their student union remained constant, at 56%.

Ray Williams, Vice-President of Access and Academic Affairs at the Oxford SU, commented:

“We are extremely happy to see Oxford failed to reach 50%. Oxford SU ran a campaign to boycott the NSS and its great to see so many students responded to that campaign. By boycotting the NSS, we resist the differentiation and increase of tuition fees that threaten to make higher education the preserve of the wealthy for years to come. It’s to see how many students oppose marketisation by not filling out the survey.

“Following the successful NSS boycott in a number of major universities last year, including Oxford, the government tried to silence students by halving the weight of the NSS in the teaching education framework. Continued mobilisation on the boycott campaign, serious criticism of the NSS by institutions such as the Royal Statistical Society, as well as considerable criticism of the TEF by academics, has now lead the government to suspend the link of the TEF to tuition fees and freeze the level of tuition fees. This is a major victory for the boycott campaign and the campaign against marketisation- and for education – in UK universities.”

The Office for Students was contacted for comment.

Image credit: Mike Knell