NUS Vice President Sorana Vieru condemned the "desperate attempt" to collect more responsesNUS

The University of Cambridge has reopened the National Student Survey (NSS) to responses from finalists.

On Monday afternoon, in an email sent to finalists who had not completed the survey prior to the original deadline, the University announced that the survey would be reopened for an additional week, from 8th to 12th May. The email explained that the required threshold of a 50 per cent completion rate had not been met during the initial response period.

In the email, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education Graham Virgo stressed that finalists’ participation in the NSS was “very important for future students since it helps Cambridge University improve its teaching and student experience”.

The NSS, which is circulated to all undergraduate students in their final year of study, must reach a completion rate of 50 per cent of students in order for its results to be valid. However,  just days before the original closing date of 30th April, the National Union of Students (NUS) claimed to have seen documents that indicated at least nine universities had failed to meet this threshold, with completion rates at some Russell Group universities as low as 27.5 per cent.

While the survey was open, the NUS ran a campaign encouraging students to boycott it, in an attempt to sabotage the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), part of the Higher Education and Research Bill passed last month. Under the bill, the government hopes to establish a new ranking system for universities, based partly on the results of the NSS. The government had planned to allow the highest-ranked universities to raise their tuition fees in line with inflation. However, the establishment of a link between a university’s fees and its performance under the TEF was deferred until 2020 when the bill was passed by the House of Commons, after the Lords voted to sever this link. Any rise in tuition fees as a result of a university’s TEF performance will now be subject to an independent review.

As the original closing date for the NSS approached, a spokesperson for the Department of Education told Varsity that the current TEF assessment process, which uses last year’s NSS results, would be unaffected by the controversy.

They added that “no university will be disadvantaged in the event of low participation in the survey,” as “TEF assessments will continue to be based upon a wide range of factors, including drop-out rates and progression to highly skilled employment as well as additional evidence submitted by the provider.”

However, in a statement posted on their website, the NUS declared that, besides Cambridge, four other universities had also extended the NSS completion deadline for their students, including Manchester, Bristol and University College London.

The statement praised the “hard work of campaigners across the UK” in effecting the boycott: “Students have demonstrated their power. We will continue to fight the link between the Teaching Excellence Framework and rising tuition fees.”

Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President for Higher Education, described the reopening of the NSS by Ipsos MORI, the research company commissioned by the government to carry out the survey, as a “desperate attempt to fix a data result they’re unhappy with”.

She added that it was “not only unethical, but stands to undermine the legitimacy of the survey”.

“We are dissatisfied with the direction higher education is heading,” she continued, “and will not allow our education to be ineptly measured and damagingly sold any longer.”

Speaking to Varsity, Roberta Huldisch, CUSU’s Education Officer, echoed Vieru’s sentiments, saying, “Reopening the NSS a week after its widely publicised closing date is a desperate attempt by Ipsos mori and the University to undermine students' conscious choice not to make their own feedback complicit in rising tuition fees.”

She continued, “The success of the boycott shows what we have been saying all along: NSS data is far too easy to manipulate,” citing the its role in forming “a framework around which the entire Higher Education sector may be structured”.

“We encourage using a different feedback method, like CUSU's own Big Cambridge Survey, which will be released in the next few weeks.”

A University spokesperson told Varsity: "Following consultation with Ipsos MORI and HEFCE [the Higher Education Funding Council for England], the University has decided to reopen the NSS Survey. This will give students more time to take part and ensure the University has the most useful data possible.”

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