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Renewed calls for student boycott of ‘flawed and harmful’ National Student Survey

Updated: Mar 28, 2022

Student and staff unions describe survey as ‘integral to marketising’ higher education

By Anttoni James Numminen

Photo by fauxels from Pexels

The UCU and NUS have come out in support of a continued boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS), which asks final-year students about their higher education experience.

The survey, introduced in 2005, has been described as treating ‘students as consumers rather than learners’ and as being ‘used by institutions as cover to close courses and departments’ by the University and College Union, which represents higher education staff across the UK.

The NSS gathers students' views on what support they have received at university and how useful they found their courses in respect of future employment. It also asks respondents to rate how well their students’ associations have performed.

Ondrej Kučerák, AUSA Vice President for Education, did not say outright whether the boycott had the students’ association’s support.

‘For years we have boycotted the NSS as AUSA for similar reasons as the UCU, but we are currently trying to take a different approach and use it as a metric to improve both AUSA, University and the Schools through various channels such as the school conveners.’

Kučerák, in his second year as a sabbatical officer at the students’ association, said he hoped this would result in ‘better experiences of our students in the future’. However, he added that students who opposed the survey were welcome to make that case at the student council.

Meanwhile, the UCU’s Scotland official, Mary Senior, told The Gaudie that ‘the NSS is flawed and harmful to education’, adding that it was marketising a sector that ‘should be about more than just league tables, and instead should have learning and collegiality at the fore.’

The UCU is currently taking part in UK-wide industrial action over disputes regarding pensions, income, workloads, and equality, which the union says are all being threatened by senior management, including vice-chancellors. Aberdeen UCU did not meet the 50% turnout threshold legally required for a strike to take place.

Though the University of Aberdeen did not directly dispute the UCU’s concerns, it said the NSS was used by the University as part of its overall approach to ‘understanding and enhancing the student experience’.

‘As an example, we have taken forward institutional work on assessment as part of a response to the outcomes from the NSS in 2021, intending to enhance the learning experience for our students.’

A University spokesperson told The Gaudie, ‘Our participation in the NSS is a requirement as it forms the basis of one of the measures used by the Scottish Funding Council to monitor the performance of all Scottish universities as part of the Outcome Agreement process.’

However, the UCU’s Mary Senior added that ‘the NSS treats students as consumers rather than learners, is used by institutions as cover to close courses and departments and feeds into the discredited Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).’

The University of Aberdeen does not currently take part in the TEF but is a member of the Research Excellence Framework.


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