The University of Manchester Students’ Union (SU) has been branded ‘unhelpful’ for refusing to support a boycott of this year’s National Student Survey. This is despite the SU being democratically mandated to do so via an active senate motion.
Save Our Staff, the society which supports striking lecturers and campaigns against the marketisation of further education, has told The Mancunion that a neutral stance by the SU means that a third University of Manchester boycott of the NSS would be “ineffective”. They also argue that without the SU on board, students “won’t know the extent of the problems associated with the NSS.”
For the last two years, the Students’ Union (SU) has either discouraged final-year students from filling in the survey or actively engaged in an attempt to boycott the NSS. It’s previously been argued that the results from the student survey are used as part of a framework that “legitimises the increase of tuition fees”, making it a target for groups that campaign against the marketisation of education.
This year, the Students’ Union changed tact and have taken a neutral stance on the survey. This has been seen by some as inconsistent with a policy passed by Senate, the highest decision-making body in the SU, which commits the SU to support a boycott of the NSS until 2020.
Hufi Neibig, President of Save Our Staff (SOS) said: “As a group, we would like the SU to support a pro-active boycott of the NSS because it’s damaging, its results are used against students and we believe a boycott can only be effectively carried out with the support of the SU.”
The SU argue that a link between the NSS and tuition fees is no longer existent and that the mandate was based on a policy position that no longer exists. Even though Manchester SU claim that a link no longer exists, Cambridge University Students’ Union – who have typically been seen to have led the campaign against the NSS – are boycotting the survey for a third year in 2019.
Olivia Meisl, the SU’s Education Officer who is listed as ‘responsible’ for the policy proposal committing the SU to support a boycott said: “We were mandated to boycott based on the policy position at the time, and this situation has changed completely.”
Olivia told The Mancunion that after the first successful NSS boycott, the TEF, the body in charge of grading the quality of universities — and indirectly affecting how much they can charge — reduced its reliance on the NSS survey by 50%.
She added: “Last year, the Exec resolved to carry on the policy as the link between the TEF and fees still existed, but the boycott was unsuccessful. This year, the Augar review has been commissioned to look at reducing the undergraduate fee, and the link between raising fees and the TEF has been totally severed. The situation is entirely different from when this policy was first passed.
“We have many other important campaign priorities this year which are time-bound, such as reclaim the night’s aim of restoring a sexual violence support unit, better buses transport campaign, Augar review into fees and funding of universities, and the place of international students following Brexit.”
The SU’s executive officers stress that despite not campaigning for a boycott, they are no way promoting the NSS and ultimately still believe it is a flawed metric.
As well as supporting an NSS boycott, the primary aim of SOS is to “stand in solidarity” with striking staff and let staff who are contemplating striking know that they have student support.
The University and College Union (UCU) is currently balloting members for strike action regarding the gender pay gap, insecure contracts, excessive workloads and the supposed falling value of pay. The ballot, which closes on February 22nd, needs a turnout of at least 50% before action can be taken.
Last week, SOS passed a motion at Senate committing the SU to support a ‘yes’ vote in the UCU ballot for strike action, it passed with 73% of attendees in favour. The SU will now write a letter to the vice chancellor demanding an improved pay offer of 7.5%.
Hufi Neibig added: “We’ve been emailing our lecturers and teaching staff to let them know that if they were to vote for strike action, they can expect student solidarity. We would get together and support them.
“We’re not pro-strike, the main thing we always say is that striking is a last resort, it’s not something staff or students want but it’s just about communicating that it might be necessary and we will do what we can to bridge the gap between students and staff.”