New rules mean responses to the survey of finalists may be linked to fees increasesLouis Ashworth

The CUSU-organised boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS) is based on “inaccurate” information, it has been suggested.

In an email circulated to Faculty Board Secretaries and Departmental Administrators, Marianna Kaimaki, Administrative Officer with responsibility for managing the NSS at the university’s Educational and Student Policy department, accuses CUSU of having circulated “misinformation” to students encouraging them not to fill out the survey.

The NSS boycott, which was mandated following a vote by CUSU council in January, was organised as part of CUSU’s opposition to the terms of Year 2 of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF 2), which the University agreed to comply with in December.

CUSU has been encouraging students to boycott the survey because under the terms of TEF 2, the results of the survey are set to be used to rank universities and allow the top-performing to raise their tuition fees.

But the email directly contradicts CUSU’s central contention that failing to reach a 50 per cent response rate in the NSS would invalidate the results, and thus prevent increases to tuition fees planned under the TEF ).

After CUSU voted to back the boycott, it sent a notice to all students which included the claim that "If less than 50% of students fill out the survey then the results will be invalid". But according to the email, “failing to reach a 50% threshold in the NSS this year, will have no effect on our TEF 2 result”. The TEF 2 score will instead be calculated on NSS performance aggregated between 2014 and 2016, and will not include 2017 data at all.

Furthermore, the statement expresses doubt that the NSS will continue to be relevant in future TEF 2 surveys, suggesting that the NSS “is unlikely to be relevant for at least two years (during which time alternative sources may be sought by the Government).” The only impact of a successful boycott, the email suggests, would be the loss of important feedback on the teaching and learning experiences of students at Cambridge, which would harm the University’s "ability to intervene when problems emerge and will not allow us to gather any good practice across the university.”

Screenshot of a notice circulated by CUSU after it voted to boycott the NSSMatt Gutteridge

The email concludes that “the University’s position is to carry on with our normal processes of encouraging students to complete the NSS, whilst respecting the right of students to refuse to do so.”

In a joint statement, CUSU President Amatey Doku and Education Officer Roberta Huldisch said: "CUSU has made it abundantly clear throughout all our communications to students, that the NSS will be used to raise fees for future students. We are aware that some departmental administrators had concerns about the information we had put out but no one has been able to show us how, where or when we have misinformed students.

"CUSU is boycotting the NSS in order to make sure that the Government cannot directly use our data to raise fees and further privatise education in the future. As far as we know, the polling company behind the NSS may still release incomplete data to the University for internal use even if it is below the 50% threshold, and as students know, there are numerous other ways to feed back to the University or College."