If you are a third year student and oppose the local and national cuts being made to the higher education sector, there’s something simple and really effective you can do to help the movement – don’t fill out the National Student Survey (NSS). The motion for the boycott was passed at this year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) and then ratified by Union Council, and is one of the most heavily discussed topics amongst students and staff at Sussex right now. Here’s a few basic questions answered about why Stop the Cuts believes that this is an effective and radically new element in the fight for higher education.
What is the NSS? It is a way for you to “provide feedback on courses in a nationally recognised format.” What the second part of that statement really means is that it is a crucial factor in deciding where universities are ranked in national league tables.
What’s wrong with league tables? League tables exemplify the marketisation of education across the country (and the world). They are big catalogues where prospective students can see which university will give them a ‘better’ degree, based on arbitrary qualifications like the amount of money the university already has to fund research or build expensive accommodation. If David Cameron implements his proposals to increase tuition fees in what he has called the “good universities,” the league tables will be synonymous with a price catalogue. And the NSS is just paving the way.
Who supports the NSS and why? The university management – they see students as consumers and want to make sure that the product (our education) that they are selling is in demand. Coercing faculty to plead with students to complete the survey is a common tactic used by vice-chancellors across the country.
The National Union of Students (NUS) – as the student wing of the Labour Party and in keeping with government policy, they actively encourage students to see their education as a privilege and something to purchase, rather than a universal right and a public service. We must lobby our NUS representatives and show them that their constituents are opposed to the commodification of their academia.
Can this hurt individual departments and academics? Not if everyone takes part in the boycott. Management uses the NSS as a beating stick to put our lecturers and tutors in an uncomfortable and oppressed position – if one or two departments have a low NSS turn-out, management can use it as a means for making more cuts in that area. But the fight for Higher Education is no longer confined to a single department at only one institution. The National Convention Against Cuts and Fees voted in favour of a national student boycott of the NSS, and if students across departments and universities stand together in solidarity against the cuts, it is the system that will suffer, not the academics and staff.
How can the university receive feedback? Course Evaluation Questionnaires; Exit surveys for university accommodation; Internally circulated satisfaction surveys; Consultation groups for proposed changes. These surveys and methods of feedback already exist at Sussex, and provide the university with a good mode of assessing how students feel about their time here, and allow us to provide suggestions for improvement. What they don’t do is compare us to universities across the country, which is already an inherently flawed idea – different universities have different strengths, and to compare them with each other is to try and standardise education and homogenise the once vibrant and intellectually stimulating place of the university.
Boycotting the NSS not only provides a concrete threat to Sussex management’s proposed redundancies by acting as a bargaining tool, but also sends a strong message to our national leaders that this is not the kind of educational system that we are willing to support. Cuts to public services are increasing at an alarming pace, and education will not be spared. Say no to being treated as a customer, say no to the devaluing of our staff, and say no to stupid surveys. Go to www.ussu.info/nss and sign the pledge telling the Union that you will not be filling out the NSS.