Boycott the NSS 2018

2018 NSS Boycott 

The NSS is again being sent to finalists and CUSU is calling for students to boycott it for the second year in a row. The reason for this is that many of the objections to participation in the NSS that stood last year still stand. There has been no guarantee that the temporary freeze on tuition fees will continue or that the link between TEF and fees will be removed. Although the relationship between the NSS and TEF has changed, if the results aren't invalidated they will be used in the implementation of TEF and the continued movements of the government toward a marketised higher education system. Boycotting the NSS remains one of our best opportunities to make a clear statement against the direction of higher education which is becoming increasingly inaccessible and elitist.

Background and Last Year's Boycott

The National Student Survey (NSS) is sent out to all finalist undergraduates at universities in the UK, asking students to rate their experiences at university. NSS has been explicitly linked to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which was controversially intended to connect university performance with tuition fees by ranking universities into gold, silver and bronze categories and allowing gold/silver institutions to charge higher fees. 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. TEF was subject to heavy criticism from students, and last year CUSU joined 25 other Students Unions nationwide in voting to boycott the NSS in opposition to this policy of marketising Higher Education. The boycott succeeded in making the NSS data invalid in at least 12 institutions, and the government subsequently announced that they would not increase fees over £9,250 this year.

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.

You can also opt out of all further communication from NSS about the survey here to unclutter your inbox!:

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. If you are interested in fighting for free, accessible and inclusive education join the student group Cambridge Defend Education or the Cambridge Fees and Debt Campaign, or get in touch with Martha Krish the Education Officer for more information ( 


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