Features Editor, Yasmeen, interviews Non – one of the organisers of the NSS Boycott on campus.
So, obviously the main question we have for you is why are you boycotting the National Student Survey (NSS)?
Well we’re boycotting the NSS because it’s instrumental to fee increases in coming years. This is because the results from the NSS will go towards ranking universities in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). So TEF is basically a ranking system where universities will get awarded a ranking of either bronze, silver, or gold, and will be able to increase their fees in line with their medal. If our university successfully boycotts the NSS, a successful boycott being the university gets a response rate of 50% or less, then there will be incomplete data for TEF and our university will only be able to apply for a two year award, not a three year one. I get that that’s confusing. What it basically means is that the university could only increase fees over a two year period, and then have to reapply. A much more important aspect for us is that the boycott sends a clear message to the government and universities that continuing fee increases are unacceptable which will be fought against and that students will not just stand by as they price us out of a future.
So what’s wrong with TEF?
What’s wrong with TEF is that it’s an ineffective measure of teaching quality. The NSS was never meant to measure teaching standards, just student satisfaction. TEF is basically a front for further fee increases, not improving teaching quality. Both the NUS and MPs have said this. It’s also been opposed by the University and College Lecturers Union (UCU). TEF says it will increase fees in line with inflation, but this isn’t the case as universities will be able to increase their fees according to their medal, this will result in universities ranked gold to be too expensive for the vast majority of students. It’s an excuse for the government to charge us more to learn.
What action have you taken so far?
We’ve been in contact with the Students’ Union about our desire to boycott the NSS and we submitted a motion for the AGM to that end. There’s a Facebook page set up called “Royal Holloway Boycotts the NSS” where we share information and memes, go like it!
I know that the boycott was encouraged by the NUS, are you working with them, or any other universities with the boycott on campus?
We’re not working directly with the NUS because our university didn’t join them in their official boycott. However, we are working with people within the NUS and from universities across Britain to help further our campaign. We’re not working with them on campus, but lots of universities are sharing campaign ideas, updates, and information and we’re part of that.
Do you not think that students not providing feedback could undermine the success of the university – won’t the rankings be affected?
Because the boycott would only provide a gap in data for a year, it would not mean a drop in rankings and it wouldn’t affect the medal we would get. Essentially what the boycott does is send a strong message to the admins at our university and to the government that students reject TEF and any fee increases. In fact, not boycotting the NSS will mean many universities go down in ranking as they’ll end up with bronze medals based on poor and inaccurate information!
I saw on the university website that they’ve listed fees for 2017/18 as £9,250 already. Considering the NSS hasn’t even been carried out yet, are you aware of any other measures that the university may use to obtain this gold standard?
Yes, the university has already put up that they will be increasing fees for 17/18, but they’ve said that this is conditional on TEF getting through government, which it will if there isn’t a strong, united, coherent opposition from students. It also says on that bit of the website that fees may continue to increase in line with TEF in the coming years. So it’s in the interest of current students and potential students to oppose these government plans and boycott the NSS.
Because loans will increase with fees and will likely be paid back at the same rate, how will tuition fee increases directly impact new students?
Yeah they will be paid back at the same rate, but isn’t the current rate awful already?! We’re paying back so much more than we’ve borrowed because of the amount of interest we’ve been charged on our loans (something that you promised would never happen, Mr Clegg). We’re now being charged interest on our student loans whilst we’re still at university! This is something that is only going to get worse now that the student loan book has been sold off. Most people will never manage to pay off their student loans before the age of about 50 when they’re wiped anyway. An increase in tuition fees will mean more interest and more to pay back, with it taking longer.
This boycott has gained some interesting views in the press – one particular critic came from an article written by an Oxford student for the Telegraph in which he has claimed the ‘NSS boycott is exactly the sort of poorly thought—out protest that gives student politics a bad name’. What do you think about this statement?
I don’t really see how a boycott can give the student politics a bad name. I’ve read that article and he was raising the same arguments that most people do, that people need information about what Uni they’ll be going to and that TEF will inevitably go ahead anyway. As I’ve already said, a boycott of the NSS won’t mean there’s no data on student satisfaction for universities to give to prospective students. But the argument that TEF will go ahead anyway so we shouldn’t bother is pretty pathetic. Most battles that we fight we lose, but if we were to not fight the government would get in its head that we don’t care, that we’re apathetic to the decisions that that make about our lives and that isn’t the case. Even if the boycott doesn’t stop TEF and fee rises (which it isn’t meant to on its own by the way, it’s only meant to delay the government while students kick up more of a fuss) showing the government that a considerable amount of students won’t go along with their marketization of higher education is still a powerful message. Have you filled out the NSS and now think “Damn, Paul Layzell doesn’t need any more money than 200k/year”? Well, you can withdraw your participation by sending a quick email to email@example.com