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USSU push for National Student Survey boycott

The University of Sussex Students’ Union (USSU) has urged all final year undergraduates to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS) in protest of the proposed cuts to jobs, courses and services at the university.

In a statement posted on the USSU website last week, the union claimed that the university management has refused to negotiate its proposals to axe 115 jobs across campus, and has rejected alternative strategies put forward by the lecturers’ union, which will now proceed to ballot for strike action.

“University management has so far chosen to ignore student and staff opinion. However, university managers attach a great deal of importance to survey results. We feel we have no choice but to carry out an action that will be sure to get the management’s attention,” the statement said.

“We hope that the threat of losing their NSS survey scores will bring the university management to the negotiating table, and avoid cuts which would permanently damage the quality of teaching and research at Sussex.”

The NSS is a government-sponsored survey of all university finalists in the country. It is being organised by IPSOS-MORI on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). NSS results contribute to university league table rankings.

Some students and staff have expressed concern that a boycott of the NSS will reflect negatively on our tutors and damage the university’s reputation, in turn impacting on Sussex’s ability to attract students and funding. USSU has suggested otherwise, insisting that the campaign is aimed to support staff: “By not participating in the survey, rather than giving bad scores, we will make it clear that we hold the university management responsible for damaging our education, not the staff who are working hard to carry out their jobs under increasingly difficult circumstances.”

USSU insist that the real potential for damage to Sussex’s reputation will by caused by the management chipping away at our university’s most respected academic departments.

However, Professor Stephen Shute, Head of the School of Law, Politics and Sociology, and institutional lead on the NSS at Sussex, has urged final year undergraduates to participate in the survey. “The results are used by potential students to consider whether they want to study at Sussex, and by us in Schools and departments in looking at how we can make improvements in the teaching and learning we provide to current and future students,” he said.

“The NSS is powerful precisely because we can benchmark ourselves against students studying the same subjects at other similar universities, and how our results are changing year on year,” he added.

Sussex is not the only university to call for a boycott of the NSS. Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) has also encouraged students to opt-out of the survey. “Despite the good intentions of the survey, its implementation has been a disaster. It produces meaningless data which is gathered in an intrusive way,” CUSU wrote on their website.

CUSU has proposed that questions such as “Staff are good at explaining things” remain over-simplistic to the point of meaninglessness. Despite the university’s non-participation in 2006, Cambridge was still ranked in the top-ten for ‘Best Student Experience’ by the Times Higher Education Supplement. Evidently, the reputation of Cambridge University has not declined due to a low completion rate of the NSS.

Writing in the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2008, Professor Lee Harvey, former director of research and evaluation at the Higher Education Academy, described the NSS as “Shallow, costly, widely manipulated and methodologically worthless.” Indeed, attempts by universities to manipulate the NSS have been well documented. At present, Roehampton Students’ Union has informed students that the University will commit additional funding for their Summer Ball on the provision that 80% of final year undergraduates complete the survey.

USSU has asked students opting-out of the survey to register online at www.ussu.info/news. “Even if you choose not to participate right now, the NSS remains open until the end of April and we hope that progress will be made in negotiations with the University management by then,” USSU has said.

400 Sussex students have already joined the Facebook group “DON’T FILL IN THE NATIONAL STUDENT SURVEY!” The situation will be kept under review at Union Council meetings, which are open to all students.

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