Protests lead to survey omission

September 2, 2005

The credibility of a survey of 170,000 final-year students has been called into question as it emerged that Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick universities would be omitted from the results.

The National Student Survey (NSS), due to be published later this month, will reveal the opinions of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland about teaching quality, academic support, assessment and facilities. But The Times Higher has learnt that student union campaigns against the NSS at Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick prevented the survey team gathering enough data to present "statistically meaningful" conclusions about the three institutions.

It is understood that about 20 per cent of Cambridge finalists completed the NSS questionnaire compared with the 60 per cent average response rate across the sector.

Cambridge declined to comment. But Drew Livingston, Cambridge's student union academic affairs officer, said: "Our concerns centred on the intrusiveness of the data-collection methods and the likely usefulness of the survey."

Charlynne Pullen, vice-president for access and academic affairs at Oxford's student union, said it had passed a no-confidence vote in the NSS last year.

"It is not Oxford trying to say we are better than anyone else. I think students would want to be involved if the questions were meaningful, sensible and relevant," she said.

Oxford University said it shared the students' "serious concerns" but stressed that it had not refused to participate in the survey.

Peter Dunn, Warwick spokesman, said: "There is a proliferation of tables out there and if this one is going to have any credence with consumers, they will have to wonder why it does not have information on three of the most significant universities in the UK."

Nick Seagrave, of Warwick's student union, said: "Our position is that we couldn't support it when the survey was being carried out, and that remains the case."

The Higher Education Funding Council for England, which oversaw the survey, declined to comment.

But Julian Nicholds, vice-president (education) at the National Union of Students, said: "We are delighted that there has been a 60.2 per cent response rate for the National Student Survey this year."

The NSS results are due to be published on the Teaching Quality Information website in mid-September.

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