NSS Boycott 2018 – time to go bigger and better!

boycott-the-nss

This piece is written by NCAFC National Committee member Hope Worsdale. If you want any advice or support on running an NSS boycott on your campus, get in touch with us via [email protected]!

Last year’s NSS boycott was a hugely successful campaign that engaged thousands of students on campuses across the country, caused waves in the press and media and brought the TEF and the Tory government more generally under heightened scrutiny. That pressure needs to continue and build going forward in order to further delegitimise the government’s plans for Higher Education (HE) which are already widely regarded in the sector as reckless and damaging.

So what has changed since last year? Well, as a result of the boycott campaign, the government has continually bent over backwards to find a way around it. They have implemented shady, flimsy mechanisms by which institutions can play a “get out of jail free card” if they have been severely impacted by the boycott, and they’ve also halved the weighting of the NSS as a TEF metric. But there’s only a certain amount of fudging they can do. The student movement has backed them into a corner through the boycott and we need to continue pushing forward until they have nowhere left to hide. The more they are forced to make ridiculous tweaks to the system as a result of a boycott, the more unworkable and fragile the TEF becomes.

It’s also worth considering that, quite clearly, the government has put these mechanisms in place precisely because they want to deter students and SUs from engaging in another round of boycotting the NSS. Letting up on the boycott now would mean that the student movement would be perfectly playing into the government’s hands, and that is simply not an option. If the government want to play games in order to desperately cling on to this diabolical system, we’d better make sure we give them hell and make it as unworkable as possible.

Another recent development is that the government has announced that they are freezing fees for now at £9250. The only “guarantee” we have is that this freeze will last for a year – they are being deliberately vague about what their plans beyond that are. Campaigning by students and workers in HE, not least through the NSS boycott, had already forced the government to delay the link between TEF and fee rises for a few years anyway. But ultimately, the whole premise behind TEF is that it’s a tool of marketisation which will be used to establish differentiated fee levels in HE – there is no reason to believe that this is not still going to happen. Hence this is yet another reason why we need to build on the progress that’s already been made and keep the pressure up through another round of boycotting. Also, put simply, this government is in absolute disarray and chaos around HE policy – Jo Johnson and Theresa May are consistently saying different things in relation to universities and we cannot and should not trust anything that comes out of their mouths. We must stand firm in our stance as a student movement because there’s every chance that one or two years (or even a few months to be honest…) down the line they will have made a U-turn, changed their policy and thrown students under the bus once again.

It’s important to also remind ourselves of all the things that have not changed at all. The TEF still exists, and the NSS is still being used as a metric to measure teaching quality. This is utterly nonsensical and completely devalues and misrepresents teaching that happens in our universities and we absolutely must reject this system. The NSS has always been a fundamentally flawed mechanism through which it has been shown that women and BME academics get consistently lower scores. It also does nothing to meaningfully highlight where genuine improvements can be made in our education system as it’s centred around quantitative data in place of actually discursively engaging with students and staff on the ground. Not only do we reject “student voice” through the NSS being used to marketise our education system within TEF, but we reject legitimising such a damaging and frankly useless tool which has long been used as a stick to beat staff with, which reproduces structural oppression and which props up bullshit league tables.

So while we are not in exactly the same situation as we were this time last year, many things have actually remained the same. The TEF still exists, NSS is still used as a TEF metric, and there is absolutely no concrete reason to believe that the government is letting up on their plans for differentiated fee levels (including further rises) in the near future. Last year showed the power that students can wield through the boycott and just how shaky this government is on HE policy. Now would be the worst possible time to step away from this campaign – our only option is to go even bigger and harder this year.

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