Opinion: Back the NSS Boycott 2018!

to do boycottBy Dan Davison, NCAFC & UCU activist

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is yet another perverse step in the marketization of education. It attempts to create an artificial state of competition between institutions by ranking them according to such metrics as graduate earnings, graduate employment, and – of course – the National Student Survey (NSS). The first ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’, and ‘Bronze’ rankings under these metrics were awarded just this year. Whilst these naturally were met with celebration by many a Vice-Chancellor and plastered proudly across many a University website, let’s not pretend that those rankings actually mean anything. Let’s not pretend that we can measure the quality of teaching a student receives from a combination of (1) whether they have a high-paying job after they graduate, and (2) the responses provided on a statistically suspect survey, subject to all the unconscious biases inherent in such a means of gauging opinion. Let’s not pretend that chasing metrics in the name of customer satisfaction is an acceptable substitute for systematically improving the material conditions of workers and students on campus.

The fight against the TEF and the wider Higher Education reforms must resume in earnest. We have already seen their first devastating effects in the mass cuts to jobs at such universities as Manchester and Southampton. This is why I welcome the calls to continue and build upon the NSS Boycott. The boycott is one of the few means through which the National Union of Students (NUS) can bring leverage to the bargaining table. By effectively sabotaging one of the metrics upon which the TEF is built, we show how flimsy and void of truth those metrics really are. We in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have long argued that the NUS should behave like a true union: one that fights boldly for the collective interests of its members without caving into class-collaborationism. Right now, the boycott is the closest thing we have to an NUS industrial action. It presents a rare opportunity to link a national strategy against the marketization of education with rank-and-file activism.

Last year, we made our first dent. As a result of the boycott, we made the NSS results unusable in at least 12 different institutions by dropping the survey response rates below 50%. Already the government is trying to outmanoeuvre us by giving the NSS results less weighting in the TEF’s metrics, yet that very move shows us how little is needed to shake the foundations of their framework. Put simply, if the 26 students’ unions who organised boycotts last year were able to throw a spanner in the works, imagine how many gears we could grind to a halt if we pushed the campaign even further! When the NUS National Conference passed its policy to boycott the NSS in 2016, it was to be until the TEF is abolished and the Higher Education reforms are withdrawn. Those demands remain every bit as vital now as they were then. Until they are met, the boycott must continue and we in NCAFC should proudly spearhead it into 2018. Across the country, our activists should be organising to pass motions in students’ unions and promote the boycott at the grassroots level.

I appreciate that the road before us is uncertain. We have seen the ascent of the right within the NUS. We have seen how little we can rely on the NUS leadership to back street-level activism. We have seen reactionary students’ unions breaking rank to ‘boycott the boycott’ in the name of localism and cosying up to senior management. Yet if we, as the standard-bearers of the left in the student movement, cannot lead by example, then who can? To those who fear that all the scabs and right-wingers obstructing us at every stage will surely secure our defeat, have we not always done what we do ‘though cowards flinch and traitors sneer’? Yes, it will be a tough fight. But by building bonds of solidarity with the countless students, education workers, and others who recognise the TEF as yet another shameless attempt to bend a public good into the warped shape of a market system, we can spread word of our cause to even further corners and form an effective force in our own right. Let these words ring into the New Year, even louder and clearer than before: ‘Boycott the NSS!’

NSS boycott first year makes a big dent: bring on round two!

London College of Communications campus, University of the Arts LondonOn 9th August, the NSS results were released and it was confirmed that the NSS boycott had invalidated the data for 12 universities. This is something to celebrate and to build upon.

NCAFC have been advocating for a boycott of the survey for years; and in 2016, its proposed link to the Teaching Excellence Framework meant that the motion at NUS Conference passed overwhelmingly. NUS must stand by its mandate from National Conference and continue to push the boycott, not shy away from meaningful action – because in order to break the TEF, we will have to continue to build the NSS boycott until the higher education reforms are withdrawn.

We aren’t just campaigning against the increase of fees, but the wholesale marketisation of education which the TEF promises to usher in.

Surveys like the NSS help integrate competition into the heart of our universities. Universities have already been pushed to operate as businesses, incentivised to cut costs and spend more money on PR, advertising and big pay packets for management rather than on pay, teaching and support services for staff and students. The fight for free education lies not only in abolishing fees, but in the thorough eviction of the market from higher education; universities should be acting in the interests of students and staff, not money and big business.

The NSS boycott has been one of the most radical, far-reaching and effective campaigns have students and activists have pushed through in years. In mobilising students in the fight against the marketisation of HE, the boycott has already forced delays in fee rises – and even pushed the House of Lords to attempt to totally sever the link between the TEF and fee increases, with the boycott being quoted in the debate.

We have the power, the resources and the potential to carry this momentum even further. We should build upon our successes and push for an even stronger and bigger boycott next year. If we had 25 SUs boycotting it this year, let’s make it 100 next year – bring on NSS boycott 2018!

Solidarity message from an Ipsos MORI worker – boycott the NSS

destroy HE nssThis anonymous message came to NCAFC we received from an call centre worker at Ipsos MORI, the market research company that carries out the National Student Survey. Remember, when Ipsos MORI call you up to hassle you about the survey, the person on the other end of the phone probably don’t like it much more than you – so don’t forget to be polite when you tell them you won’t be completing the NSS and ask them to remove you from the contact list!

I have worked for Ipsos Mori (a market research company with call centres based in Edinburgh and Newcastle) for over 2 months now and to be honest I’ve worked for worse places. Most of the staff and management were nice with most of the people taking my quality control being very friendly giving constructive feedback but it’s a shame this wasn’t there right at the start. After apply for the job I was asked to do an assessment at the call centre. After a brief training period I completed the assessment and passed, only to be told by the trainer that if it was up to her she would have failed me which is always a nice way to be welcomed to a company.

After a few weeks of the joys of a zero hour contract we were assigned to the National Student Survey project. Before we began calling students up asking if they could take part we were given a 15 minute briefing. During this briefing we were informed of the most efficient way of getting as many surveys as possible. One of the things that came up in this briefing was the student boycott. It was described to us as a boycott being conducted by some Unions within the NUS as a misguided attempt to protest the fees and that the NSS ‘has nothing to do with student fees’ and ‘all the results can be found online’ and it’s simply a way of allowing students to make an ‘informed choice’ of which Uni to go to.  This was the response we were to give to students who told us they were taking part in the boycott in the hopes of convincing them to do the survey. There was no punishment for not trying to convince students to ignore the boycott but when your wages are determined by the number of successful surveys you complete in an hour there is a financial incentive to do so.

Although there is no active attempt to try and undermine the boycott the never nature of the market research means that some interviewers will attempt to persuade students to do so, this isn’t to blame them after all they are just doing their jobs, but if the boycott is to be successful it is important that every student knows to boycott the NSS and have clear arguments as to why it is detrimental to them and future students’ education.

Despite these challenges I know that with determination and courage a united student movement can mount an effective boycott that will force management to listen to us. To all students out there know that you have my full support and solidarity and wish you all the best with the boycott.

In Solidarity,
Mori Mole

Teaching Excellence Framework day of action #boycottNSS

Chelsea College of Art campus, University of the Arts London

Chelsea College of Art campus, University of the Arts London

On January 26th, the deadline for university submissions to the Teaching Excellence Framework, students coordinated cross-campus actions to protest against the Higher Education reforms.

Students at LSE, UCL, UAL, KCL, Queen Mary, Warwick and Bath Spa universities as well as City and Islington College put up banners calling for the Government’s plans to be dropped, and for a boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS).

The Teaching Excellence Framework is a Government scheme which is being introduced this year, aimed at measuring the quality of teaching in UK universities. It will rank universities Gold, Silver or Bronze according to metrics including NSS results, graduate outcomes and retention rates, and allow universities to increase fees by rates depending on their score. Despite major student-led campaigns on multiple campuses demanding that institutions opt out of the framework, most English universities decided to submit to the TEF.

The Higher Education and Research Bill, which is currently at Committee Stage in the House of Lords, also includes measures to make it easier for private providers to attain degree awarding powers and to become universities, as well as for established institutions to close down.

At the National Union of Students conference in April, students passed a policy to boycott the NSS as a means to disrupting the TEF until the Government backs down on its plans. The NSS is a survey given to final year undergraduates to rate their course and institution.

Ana Oppenheim from the National Executive Council of NUS, said: “The Teaching Excellence Framework has nothing to do with teaching quality, and everything to do with fee rises, marketisation and serving the interests of business at the expense of students and staff. The reforms are an attack on the very idea of public education, and we will use any means available to us to fight for its future.”

Monty Shield from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said: “We are fighting the Higher Education Reforms because they are going to rank up the role of private providers in our education system, majorly harming the conditions of both staff and students. Statistics from the National Student Survey (NSS) are a key part of this new system. In our boycott of the NSS we are showing the government that we have the power to take away the data they need for these reforms, and will continue to do so until they are defeated.”

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