Student threat to boycott survey

January 27, 2006

Student leaders at Russell Group universities have threatened to boycott the national student satisfaction survey amid concerns that students were harassed on mobile phones for last year's study.

The spectre of a boycott was raised as one union president urged fellow students to return top marks for all survey questions, irrespective of their views.

The protests came as the Higher Education Funding Council for England announced that Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews and Buckingham universities and teacher training courses would take part in this year's study.

The National Student Survey, which is run by Hefce and the National Union of Students, was launched last year and had a response rate of 60 per cent.

It covered the views of 170,000 final-year students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is the first national study to gauge how satisfied students are with their institutions and degree courses.

Student unions from Russell Group universities, except for Leeds, are calling for amendments to the 2007 survey, including conducting it on the web or on paper, rather than by mobile phone.

Kat Stark, chairwoman of the Russell Group student unions, advised students not to give out their mobile numbers this year to prevent "repeated calls".

She said: "Boycotting the survey is not something we want to do but, unless changes are made, we cannot support it in its current format."

Andy Wilson, Southampton student union president, meanwhile urged students at his university not to co-operate with this year's survey. He said: "We don't need the National Student Survey. It doesn't help us. We already have an internal study, which 72 per cent of our students comply with. The student union plays an important role in that.

"I would privately say to students to put five for each category on the National Student Survey so Southampton does well in the league tables and our degrees remain well respected."

Ms Stark said she would not be surprised if other unions followed suit, but would not recommend it.

Julian Nicholds, National Union of Students vice-president of education, urged all universities to co-operate fully with the survey.

Simon van Heyningen, vice-principal of Edinburgh, which has signed up to the survey, said: "We became persuaded that while it has some flaws, it is a useful thing for us to be involved in.

"We'll do our best to get a good response because, without that, the results aren't going to be useful. Our students are keen on it as well."

Poor response rates for six universities including Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick meant they did not feature in the 2005 results.

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