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Should we boycott the NSS?

The QMSU is calling for students to boycott the National Student Survey, but is this really in the best interest of the university?

A few weeks ago I received a call from an unknown number on a Saturday morning. I didn’t answer. A few days later I received another call from an unknown number. This time I answered. ‘Who was this mystery caller?’ I hear you ask. Nope, it was not a romantic lover, but instead, the National Students Survey encouraging me to take part.

On the phone to a kind representative of the NSS I was faced with a dilemma. My experience of studying English at Queen Mary has been more than satisfactory, and I would love to be able to record this in some way, especially if it will help the department and the university get more recognition and encourage future students to apply. However, I have been bombarded with messages on behalf of QMSU, telling me to boycott the NSS. Worryingly the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) are planning to use the NSS results to raise tuition fees along with inflation. So what should I do?

University is extraordinarily expensive. My degree has caused me to be in roughly around £50,000 of debt. Last week I was at a parent’s evening at a school where the students are statistically unlikely to apply to university, attempting to raise aspirations. It hurt me that most parents were agreeing with the statement that ‘University is not worth the cost’.

It is the working classes, who are already underrepresented in higher education that will be hurt the most by the raising of fees. The new TEF system plans to use NSS result to rank universities as Gold, Silver or Bronze. Those ranked as Gold and Silver will be able to increase fees by the full rate of inflation, and those ranked as Bronze by half the rate of inflation. This tiered system seems designed to make the best universities even more exclusive to those who are already at a disadvantage in attending.

But, there is another side to this story, at least in the School of English and Drama. As one lecturer has pointed out, due to the calls to boycott, the school’s rate of response in the NSS is currently extremely low. It is so low that it is unlikely to be able to be made public, therefore meaning that the Department of English will not have a score for student satisfaction. This means that the department will not be able to be included in any university league tables, and this could seriously affect applications to the university and funding for staff and teaching.

It’s a Catch- 22 situation. We are presented with two undesirable options. Make university even more exclusive? Or risk devaluing the teaching that we receive, and potentially the reputation of the university? Both options could have seriously negative unintended negative consequences. It’s not a simple choice.

Image: Nayara Fakir

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