Khadija Kothia, BA History
Students have voted against a boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS), following a referendum held by the Students’ Union earlier this month. The results showed a 160 majority in favour of rejecting a boycott. The total vote count reached 529, with 332 students voting against the boycott, 172 for, and 25 abstentions. Voting was held on-campus and online between the 10th and 14th of January. Following this result, the SOAS Students’ Union will not be campaigning for a boycott of the NSS this year, though it will be up to individual final year undergraduate students to decide whether or not they will complete the survey.
The total vote count reached 529, with 332 students voting against the boycott, 172 for, and 25 abstentions.
The National Student Survey is a nation-wide questionnaire held for all final year undergraduates to fill in. It asks for their opinion regarding several factors affecting their university experience, such as resources, student voice, and teaching standards. The survey is usually filled out during the second half of the academic year, and the results of this survey play an important part in affecting a university’s position on the league tables, which play a key role in the decision-making process for students applying for universities in the coming year.
In the 2016/17 academic year, the National Union of Students (NUS) led a nationwide campaign to boycott the NSS. The boycott was held in protest of the linkage of the NSS to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which would give universities with higher rankings the ability to increase their tuition fees and was protested by the NUS on the grounds that this would “accelerate the marketisation of our sector, entrench inequality and damage the UK’s academic reputation”. Following the nation-wide boycott, the TEF/NSS linkage was dropped, and the NUS boycott was ended. However, a 2017/18 SOAS Students’ Union UGM motion passed another motion to boycott the NSS, as a moral stand against the marketisation of higher education. Despite this boycott, 52% of students still filled out the NSS, demonstrating that students, on the whole, felt differently to the UGM participants who passed the motion. The Students’ Union Co-Presidents stated this as the reason for holding the referendum, saying that all students should have a say in how the university officially boycotts, and not just those present at the UGM. This year, turnout reached 529, a much higher number than those present when the decision was previously made in a UGM.
Information regarding the boycott was emailed by the Students’ Union to all students, and posters were put up around the campus. An open debate was held on Thursday 10 January in the Senate House atrium, where the floor was open to students to voice their queries. Despite low attendance, questions were asked about the boycotts impacts, particularly with regard to the university’s worrying financial position. These answers were printed and passed around campus for students to read. However, there still remains a concern that the information was not explained well enough, with students taking to social media to vent their frustration. One student said, “I don’t get the NSS thing at all… Sometimes I feel SU just expect us to go along with what they say without providing any information lol and frankly I am scared to ask at this point.”
The results of this year’s NSS survey will likely have an impact on SOAS’ financial situation. Last month, The SOAS Spirit revealed that the university was facing a deficit of £7.1million, following a 40% fall in undergraduate intake over the past two years. The fall was seen, in part, to be the result of a drop in league tables, as the school has a dependency on tuition fees, which make up 72% of its income, with SOAS falling so far down that the university is no longer included in scholarship programmes awarded by some governments due to the declining position in league tables. Examples include scholarship schemes in Norway, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Russia. The decision to reject the boycott could have a long-term impact on the university’s league table position, as a higher number of students filling in the survey could possibly lead to an increase in SOAS’ league table position, potentially improving the university’s financial position.
Image Credits: Khadija Kothia