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27th January 2017

NSS boycott launched as university opts into TEF

The University of Manchester will enter the Teaching Excellence Framework, which will allow better-performing universities to raise fees above the £9,000 cap

The University of Manchester has chosen to enter the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), as the Students’ Union launches their NSS boycott campaign, #DontFillItIn.

The National Student Survey (NSS), sent to final year students every year by Ipsos MORI to measure their satisfaction with their course and university, is currently used in league tables nationwide to scrutinise universities’ performance, but until now has never been linked to tuition fees.

The NSS will be one of the metrics used as a part of the TEF, a rating system which will give universities either a Bronze, Silver or Gold award and allow them to allocate their fees accordingly, beyond the current £9,000 cap.

The TEF will be based on three metrics – “teaching quality”, utilising the NSS; “learning environment”, including dropout rate as well as technology and extracurricular activities; and “student outcomes & learning gain”, including data on employment levels six months after graduation.

It is opposed by many, including the NUS, who not only oppose the permitting of institutions to raise tuition fees even further – as it will further limit disadvantaged students’ access to the best-performing universities – but also the TEF’s methods.

Up until the deadline to sign up to the TEF at midday on the 26th of January, the University of Manchester was one of few universities not to have declared whether they had opted in or not.

In the same week, the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University, Peter Horrocks, has declared that his institution will not be signing up to the TEF, as he is not confident it “is a true measure of teaching excellence across the whole sector”.

Students from the OU tend to have much more varied and unique backgrounds than those at mainstream higher education institutions, and Horrocks has outlined his concerns that the benchmarking of the TEF will unfairly reflect on the students of the institution, who often have few or no prior qualifications, occasionally progress from one year to the next at different times, and often study at the same time as working.

He has not ruled out joining at a later date once the trial year is done.

A statement by the University of Manchester Students’ Union outlined that “as passed by 90% of Student Senate” they “are actively boycotting the National Student Survey (NSS) as of Thursday 26th of January.

“This campaign aims to raise awareness that the results of the NSS, taken by final year undergraduates, will be used to justify the government’s plans to allow universities to increase tuition fees again in September.”

The aim of an NSS boycott is that incomplete data will invalidate the results, leading to the TEF being seriously hindered or even blocked completely.

Education Officer Emma Atkins added: “We have launched #DontFillItIn to encourage students to reject filling in the NSS as the University of Manchester has opted into the Teaching Excellence Framework (the TEF) on the 26 January 2017.

“As the University of Manchester has entered the TEF, the NSS will be a source of data that will be used to increase tuition fees. This is a national initiative, with 25 other unions (and counting) taking part.

“We acknowledge that student feedback is very important however and have therefore created an alternative survey called the Manchester Student Survey.”

The University of Manchester confirmed their decision to join the TEF but had no further comment to give at this stage.

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