I am writing to encourage you not to participate in the National Student Survey being promoted, with this University’s approval, by your Student Union on behalf of the Ipsos MORI polling organisation. Let me explain why.
Much is claimed for the NSS, yet concrete evidence of any benefit is hard to find. In reality it is an expensive exercise in reputation management, by which student criticism is deflected and blunted. It makes a lot of money for Ipsos MORI but little difference to students’ experience of university. Professor Lee Harvey, formerly director of the Higher Education Academy, has described it as “a white elephant” – “shallow, costly, widely manipulated and methodologically worthless”
Why would he do so? Not least because the NSS is statistically unsound.
You don’t have to consider for long the superficial and generalised nature of the questions to realise how futile any conclusions drawn from it must be. When the results are broken down, small departments are often unfairly compared because they’re lumped in with quite different other courses. That’s just one shortcoming; the attached
peer-reviewed analysis, which has been suppressed by the University concerned, details many more.
The widespread attempts to manipulate the NSS have been well documented: (one, two,three) but the probes and warnings quietly forgotten once the initial fuss died down. However, such practices continue. Right now Roehampton Students Union boasts “The University will commit additional funding for the Summer Ball this year on the provision that 80% of final year undergraduates complete the survey.” That’s the carrot. For academics, the stick comes in restricted freedom to speak out. Here at Portsmouth, staff are told (to quote one recent e-mail) they mustn’t “make any negative comment about the University in front of students”.
You deserve greater honesty – and a students union that will fight for it, rather than behave as junior management lickspittle for the University.
It doesn’t have to be this way. A number of SUs have not been taken in by this charade. At Cambridge (and you don’t notice their reputation slipping because of a low completion rate), they recognised the dark side of the NSS: interminable harassment by Ipsos MORI pollsters. Their campaign against it wasn’t especially successful – Ipsos MORI did agree to limit their follow up calls to eight – but at least they tried. Others, such as Sussex SU are trying to use a boycott of the NSS to achieve real change from their University [that's you!].
You can help expose the NSS for the fraud it is – just say “NO”!
Please help spread the word: my ability to do so is limited by the need to remain anonymous (I like my job). Go viral and good luck!”
As an SU activist myself many moons ago, it was refreshing to see that not everyone has been co-opted by University as additional QA bureaucrats!
All the very best with your campaign.
Portsmouth Students against the NSS
Final year students: pledge not to fill out the NSS here