Undergraduates could be encouraged to drag down their university’s National Student Survey scores in protest against plans for the teaching excellence framework.
The National Union of Students, which has voted to mobilise undergraduates to “sabotage or boycott” the NSS, is consulting on whether it should urge course finishers to answer “definitely disagree” to the survey’s opening 12 questions.
These are the questions that the government proposes to draw on to calculate universities’ ratings in the TEF, which will determine the extent to which they will be allowed to increase their tuition fees (although NSS results to be used in the first year of the TEF have already been gathered).
The NUS, which opposes any rise in fees, believes that the benefits to an institution of taking part in the TEF would be significantly reduced if enough students joined in the action.
Another option that is being consulted on is encouraging students to boycott the NSS entirely, potentially dragging their universities below the minimum response rate of 50 per cent that is required for benchmarking – and subsequently use in the TEF.
Alternatively, students might be asked to abstain from questions 1 to 12, allowing them to answer the rest of the survey, which will not be used for the TEF.
Sorana Vieru, the NUS’ vice-president (higher education), said that the NSS was being used as a “back door for the increase in fees, not to get feedback from students”.
She described the proposed action as a “last resort” because students’ concerns about the TEF metrics and the link to tuition fees had not been addressed.
“We haven’t felt listened to so far, and vice-chancellors have not taken a strong collective stance,” Ms Vieru said. “There has been a lot of constructive engagement and a lot of really good arguments put out, but we haven’t felt a budge.
“The spirit of the motion [demanding a boycott or sabotage] was to use it as a last resort and a creative tactic to leverage the voice of students.”
However, the NUS’ proposed tactics have sparked concern among some campus unions that favour a more moderate approach.
The University of Lincoln Students’ Union, which voted to disaffiliate from the NUS in the wake of Malia Bouattia’s election as national president earlier this year, said that while it opposes fee rises, it also “does not support any sabotage or boycott of the NSS”.
“We understand the importance of the NSS to the continuous enhancement of the student experience, and as a result, we remain fully supportive of it, as the university and students’ union continue to work in partnership to improve the student experience at the University of Lincoln,” the union said. “We remain adamant in our determination to get the best outcomes from the NSS for our students.”
The NUS will decide on which option to choose after the consultation this month.
A spokesman for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which runs the NSS, said that the survey “plays a vital role in giving students a voice in their education, which drives improvements in teaching and the student experience”.
The spokesman said that all the NSS data for the first round of TEF assessments had already been collected.
“We will be working with institutions, with student unions and with students to ensure that the NSS 2017 is successful,” he added.