NSS targeted in linguistics battle

Sussex students fighting closures seek to retract survey responses. Melanie Newman reports

May 14, 2009

Final-year students at the University of Sussex are seeking to withdraw their responses from the National Student Survey (NSS) in protest against the university's decision to close its linguistics courses.

A student-run Save Linguistics campaign says if 396 students withdraw their responses, the university will fall below the response rate required for the results to be published.

"We feel the feedback we gave in good faith as part of the NSS is no longer accurate," the group said.

Ipsos MORI, which carries out the survey on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, initially told the group that submitted responses could be excluded. But it later changed its mind, saying: "Once a student completes the survey it is not then possible for the student to change or withdraw their survey responses."

A university spokeswoman said the campaigners had chosen the "wrong target" for their protest. "The NSS enables students to provide feedback on their whole academic experience over the whole of their degree course," she said.

The university called on Sussex Students' Union to make clear that it did not support the action. After a meeting on 11 May, a students' union spokesman said: "Students supporting the Save Linguistics campaign have been pushed into a corner by the university's unwillingness to enter into discussions. The university has demanded that we state the union's stance on the NSS boycott within two working days, and we feel that an issue of this magnitude cannot be decided in such a small time frame."

The union was due to make its decision on 13 May, after Times Higher Education went to press.

Meanwhile, the University of Bristol has come under fire from 600 economics and finance students, who have signed a seven-page letter of complaint.

The students, led by Robert Denham, an economics undergraduate, claim teaching standards have fallen since the introduction of variable tuition fees in 2006. Undergraduates are now marking essays, exams have been shortened and class sizes increased, they said.

A university spokesman said peer marking had been introduced in one third-year unit, with up to half of answers also marked by staff.

"Peer assessment would only ever be part of a more balanced range of assessment options and, in any case, is always moderated by a trained teacher," the spokesman said.

Exams had been shortened to two hours from three after consultation with students, he added. He also said students had chosen to have classes every week with 30 students rather than classes every two weeks with 15 students.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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