Boycott the NSS

Why are we boycotting the National Student Survey?

The National Student Survey is sent out to all final year undergraduates at UK universities. Starting from this year, the NSS is actively linked to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) which is linked to fees: if you rate the University highly on the NSS they will be allowed to charge higher fees for future students. The University voluntarily signed up to TEF, despite vocal protest from students and staff, and against CUSU’s advice, in order to increase revenue from students. By 2020, fees could rise to £10,000 a year and will continue to rise.

If less than 50% of students fill out the National Student Survey, then the results will be invalid- by not participating, there is a real chance that we could halt the government’s agenda.
This is why your representatives at CUSU Council voted to support a boycott, joining around 25 other Student Unions including Oxford, Bristol, LSE, UCL and Manchester.

Importantly, this is not a question of ‘us against the University’. It is about using our collective power as students to obstruct the implementation of government policy which will harm both future students and Universities.


How exactly does it link to fees?

The National Student Survey provides half of the data used in the Teaching Excellence Framework.

The TEF is a new Government rating system sorting universities into Gold, Silver and Bronze
institutions based on how they score in the following key set of metrics:
- The scores the university gets in the NSS
- The number of students who drop out of their courses
- What students end up doing once they graduate and how much they earn, ie.
graduate employment data

Every institution which enters the TEF and receives a ‘medal’ will be able to raise fees
up to a different level based on what they get. The government is creating a forced
market of institutions charging higher different prices for degrees. This will increase
inequality both in terms of students entering HE and their graduate prospects.

NSS data is the one metric we as students can influence and have power over. So by not providing the Government with the data they need we can send a clear signal against the TEF and fee rises, make TEF less credible and workable, and make it really difficult to implement.


How do I join the boycott?

Easy, you don’t have to do anything! Just ignore any emails from the University, your Department and/or Ipsos Mori -  the company administering the NSS - asking you to complete it. Encourage any finalists you know to do the same.


If I have completed the survey already, is it too late to take it back?

No! You can simply withdraw your participation by sending a quick email to including your name and University.


How many people have to boycott for it to work?

In short, we need about 600 finalists to take part in the boycott.

Ipsos mori, the pollsters administering the NSS, do not use data from institutions with a response rate under 50%. The data becomes invalid and cannot be used in the TEF or elsewhere.

There are about 3500 final year undergraduates at Cambridge. 66% of students completed the survey in 2016, so about 2300 people. We need less than about 1700 students to complete it, so in order to succeed, and based on last year’s response rates, at least 600 students need to consciously choose not to complete the survey for the boycott to work.


Will boycotting have a negative effect on my department?

No. The University are completely aware of the NSS boycott and won’t punish any department or course for low participation rates. Some departments already have very low participation, for example because their cohorts are quite small. The University takes this into account when assessing scores. It would not be in their interest to ‘punish’ or ‘close down’ Departments, and any threats you may have heard along those lines are manipulative and unsubstantiated.


How can I make my views heard to the University without the NSS?

The University does take all forms of student feedback seriously, but the NSS is far from the only or the best way to express your views. One great way of affecting change at a Faculty level is completing end of term or end of year feedback forms which are considered by Departments and Faculties in shaping course content and delivery. You can also complete other surveys, like the Student Barometer which was piloted this year and is much more tailored to each specific institution. Another positive way of expressing your views to the University is nominating someone in CUSU’s Student Led Teaching Awards. The subsequent report detailing what students consider excellent teaching and student support is seen by some of the most senior Cambridge committees. If you have a specific issue with your teaching or support which you would like to see addressed you can always contact CUSU at and we'll make sure to bring it up with our University contacts.


Why boycott instead of sabotage?

In order for this to work it is important to take a unified approach. A boycott is more straightforward than a sabotage - and literally doing nothing is probably the easiest act of political engagement you’ll ever encounter. We’re also not about actively harming the University or undermining some of the great staff who work and teach here: which is why we want to simply make our scores unuseable for the Government rather than making them artificially low.


I’m not a finalist, or I’ve already boycotted -  can I do anything else?

Yes! First of all you can share information about the boycott with any finalists you know. The TEF is just one part of a set of sweeping Higher Education reforms which will lead to greater marketisation of education. The Higher Education and Research Bill is still going through the House of Lords so you can help Lobby a Lord by writing to them with your concerns here.



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