In the face of a national campaign encouraging students to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS), which measures the student satisfaction of a university, UCL has pulled back on promoting its completion.
In previous years, senior management has heavily incentivised the NSS through prize draws, extensive advertising and financial bonuses for high-performing departments. However, this year, Anthony Smith, vice-provost of education and student affairs, indicated to sabbatical officers that the policy of incentivisation they had previously followed would be abandoned.
The importance of the NSS lies in the fact that it is being used as a significant measure for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The TEF will grade universities as gold, silver and bronze, with each level corresponding to how much the university will be allowed to raise their tuition fees.
UCL is widely expected to only achieve a bronze grade under the TEF, largely as a result of their poor student satisfaction ratings, as revealed by the NSS. As such, UCL seem to want to shut out student voices completely, with Provost Michael Arthur expressing a wish to “downgrade the NSS” as a measurement of performance. This was seemingly confirmed by Professor Husbands, chair of the TEF panel, who stated that he does not think student satisfaction is an “accurate proxy for teaching quality.” This could shut out students’ only leverage against further tuition fee rises.
Even Anthony Smith expressed sympathy for students, saying : “I absolutely accept the position that UCLU have taken in asking students not to complete the NSS this year. I entirely understand it from a students’ point of view, when they signed up to complete the NSS, they were not thinking that it was used to raise their fees”
When pressed on why UCL even joined the TEF to begin with, Michael Arthur claimed that refusing to take part in the survey would draw attention from the press, and disapproval from the government, who they are relying on for a large loan which will help fund the UCL East project.
In the end, it’s all about the money, money, money.