This year's CUSU sabbatical officersCUSU

CUSU has advised final year students to hold off before participating in the National Student Survey (NSS), as it waits to decide on how it will officially oppose proposed nationwide Higher Education changes which form the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

Finalists were invited to participate in the survey, which consists of a range of questions intended to gauge satisfaction with teaching provision at universities, via email shortly after CUSU issued their advice.

The NSS is particularly controversial this year, in part as results from it will be used to determine which higher education providers are allowed to raise fees in line with line with inflation.

Under the second stage of the TEF (otherwise known as TEF2), universities will receive a gold, silver or bronze rating based on the student satisfaction scores they receive, part of a large-scale shakeup of higher education rules currently making its way through the legislature.

The University of Cambridge confirmed that it will participate in TEF2, which allows an inflation-dependent fee increase up to at least 2021, in December.

Posting across Facebook groups, CUSU President Amatey Doku said: “our advice to finalists is to not fill out the survey until CUSU Council has decided exactly how it will continue to oppose the [Teaching Excellence Framework]”.

He added: “Whatever Council decides, CUSU will produce a full briefing paper to all students so that they know exactly what filling out the survey from this year on will mean for the fees of future students.”

The National Union of Students and University and College Union have called for a boycott of the NSS, arguing that if responses levels are low enough it will invalidate the result. Both argue that fee increases and new metrics will lead to the “marketisation” of higher education. They were joined by campaign group Cambridge Defend Education, who wrote in Varsity to support a boycott last month.

Writing in The Guardian, Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President for Higher Education said: “The government has left us with no choice. We cannot stand by and allow misinterpreted student feedback to be used as a sly way of raising tuition fees. That is why, following students voting for this at our national conference, the NUS is coordinating a national boycott of the NSS.

“Don’t allow your feedback to be used against you, don’t fill in the NSS. Not for a free coffee, not for an Amazon voucher, not even for a crack at a free iPad.”

CUSU Council has already resolved to oppose the new legislation in a vote conducted in October, but sabbatical officers have asked for more time to determine their options for opposing TEF, which include advocating for a boycott.

The Higher Education and Research Bill entered the House of Lords yesterday. It contains a wide range of reforms including changing which institutions can be recognised as universities. It has received criticism on several fronts, most recently due to fears that the reforms will force universities to pander to students because student satisfaction is one of the proposed measures of teaching quality.

Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Baroness Wolf, a crossbench peer and professor at King’s College London said: “The student satisfaction measure is fantastically dangerous. The way to make students happy is not asking them to do any work and giving them a high grade.”

While the Bill itself does not explicitly mention the Teaching Excellence Framework, it does make the necessary provisions for its implementation, allowing fee caps to be set at different levels based on an institution’s quality rating. The TEF could therefore come under threat from amendments tabled in the House of Lords.

The government have already been defeated on an amendment, led by Labour, establishing the core role and principles of universities, stipulating among other things that “UK universities must be free to act as critics of government and the conscience of society.” It comes days after Cambridge Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Graham Virgo called for such a clause to be added to the Bill.

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