What is the NSS?
NSS stands for National Student Survey, and it is a survey of all final year undergraduates in the UK, managed by the Office for Students (an independent regulator of higher education sponsored by the Department of Education).
The NSS asks students about their experience at their universities and this information is used to rank universities in commercially produced league tables. It was intended that NSS results would also feed into a university’s assessment under the Teaching Excellence Framework (another OfS method of regulating the quality of higher education), but this is currently suspended and under review.
Why should I boycott the NSS?
In the past, Oxford SU has joined other universities in boycotting the NSS due to its ties to the Teaching Excellence Framework, which would have allowed the top performing universities to raise their undergrad tuition fees above the current £9250 limit. While home fees are currently capped and TEF is under review, the future of the NSS and how it will link to TEF is unclear, although there are no current plans to increase fees in the foreseeable future.
Furthermore, the data gathered from the NSS is used to rank universities against each other, which can create a competitive market of education. This is damaging to the quality of education because it may encourage universities to stream money into quick fixes simply to drive up student satisfaction on paper. This is made worse by the fact that many of the core questions on the NSS reflect a narrow view of what higher education and student experience should look like, rather than the more holistic and structural understanding Oxford SU advocates for, which includes an emphasis on equality and welfare as well as academics.
There are serious questions around the quality of the data, which has been shown to disadvantage minority academics and innovative teaching. Both the NSS and the TEF have been linked to courses and funding being cut and to staff stacking, especially in the humanities, and the further transformation of education into a commodity that increasingly few can afford is detrimental to Oxford SU’s access aims.
How do I join the boycott?
Easy, just do nothing! Don’t fill out the survey, ignore any emails or calls about the NSS, and encourage every finalist you know to do the same.
You may be contacted by the university, your department or Ipsos MORI (the company administering the NSS) and asked to complete the survey. You can opt out of all communications from Ipsos MORI via the NSS website: https://www.thestudentsurvey.com/faqs/ to opt out, scroll to 'Privacy and Data Protection' and click 'What if I don't want to complete the NSS'.
Note that the NSS is not the same as Oxford’s internal Student Barometer.
What if I’ve already completed the survey? Is it too late?
No! You can simply withdraw your response by sending a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org including your name and university.
How will we know if the boycott has been successful?
The results from the NSS do not get published if the response rate is from the university is less than 50%. The data becomes invalid and cannot be used. Our goal is to keep the Oxford response rate low enough that the results cannot be used.
Oxford has had three successful boycotts in the past in which this 50% threshold was not met.
How can I make my views known to the university without the NSS?
Oxford students already have ways of giving feedback to the university on our own terms, through common rooms, course reps, and Oxford SU. Don’t hesitate to contact any of the sabbatical offers about any issues with your teaching or student experience.
You can also fill out the surveys run by your department and college which will be emailed out to you at the end of each term, as well as the central University’s Student Barometer.