No NSS flag-waving here

July 3, 2008

National Union of Students president Wes Streeting (Letters, 26 June) fails to engage with Lee Harvey's criticisms of the National Student Survey ("Jumping through hoops on a white elephant", 12 June). Instead, he seems to claim that all of Harvey's criticisms are "unfounded" because "students refused to be swayed" by tutors trying to coerce students to inflate their responses in Harvey's two examples.

What Streeting has failed to grasp is that the tutors' behaviour was a symptom of the ailment that is the NSS and not the nub of Harvey's criticism. The questions that form the basis of the survey do nothing to help us understand what is happening in our universities and, worse still, create hollow competition between them on the basis of meaningless data. Like top-up fees, the research assessment exercise and other forms of academic quantification (all of which promise in their inception not to create market-style competition), the NSS bears no relation to the actual nature of education.

Furthermore, Streeting goes on to claim that University of Sussex students have "won more guaranteed contact hours and resources" because of the NSS. How he arrives at this conclusion I'll never know because he didn't contact us. If he had, I would have told him of my alarm at seeing the real challenges to our education system sidelined in the never-ending battle of metrics. Instead, what we've achieved at Sussex has been the result of direct student engagement within the university community and not the product of NSS flag-waving. The NSS does more harm than good. That the NUS naively supports it is a disappointment to those of us who recognise the damage it does.

Daniel Vockins, Outgoing president, University of Sussex Student Union.

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