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The results gathered from this year’s National Student Survey (NSS) ‘are expected to be invalid’ for the University of Bristol, according to correspondence seen by the National Union of Students (NUS).

Data gathered from the NSS is expected to be used to justify further tuition fee increases from September 2017 following the government’s decision to lift the cap on the £9000 annual rate.

In response to this move, the NUS and student unions across the country have called for students to refuse to complete the survey in a coordinated boycott in order to prevent this data from being ‘weaponised’.

The latest figures sent to universities suggest that the boycott has been successful.

In the run up to the survey closing, completion rates have been as low as 27.5% at Russell Group Universities such as Bristol.

In order for the results to be valid and implemented as a basis for justifying tuition fee increase, at least 50% of final year undergraduates are required to complete the survey.

‘completion rates have been as low as 27.5%’

It is not yet clear whether Bristol will be able to raise tuition fees with these figures.

Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President of Higher Education said:

‘The fact that thousands of students across the country have decided to boycott the National Student Survey shows how strongly they feel about the Government using their feedback to raise tuition fees. Jo Johnson has said countless times that he wants to create a system that listens to students and works in their interests.

‘Well, students have spoken loud and clear. Now it is time for the Minister to act, and halt these damaging reforms.’

These changes would be implemented through the government’s Higher Education and Research Bill, which returns to the House of Commons this week for final debates.

‘With the announcement of an imminent general election, the government will have to act quickly to pass the HE Bill and may need to make some concessions in order to do so,’ Vieru said.

Key concessions which are being lobbied for include:

  • The link between the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and fees. The government’s plan to introduce the TEF would allow universities to charge higher fees depending on the ‘quality’ of teaching offered at the institution. NUS data would be compiled as a basis of judging teaching excellence, despite controversy over whether this data provides an accurate metric.
  • Removing international students from net migration targets. International students contribute an estimated £2bn a year to the UK economy. 75% of students believe that any decrease in international student numbers would negatively impact their university experience.

  • Ensuring that requirements to become a ‘degree awarding power’ are strict enough. This would ensure that new private providers with no track record of providing quality education cannot award students degrees.

Zoe Backhouse, Undergraduate Education Officer for Bristol SU, has been a leading figure in the NSS boycott at the University of Bristol.

‘I’m incredibly proud that Bristol students have demonstrated so resoundingly that we don’t want to be part of fee rises,’ she said.

‘We have shown that we can mobilise both locally and nationally, and we will continue to do so until the link between TEF and fees is removed. The campaign is not over yet – so keep boycotting.’

Backhouse urged final year students to contact their MP ahead of the Commons debate this week.

The University maintains their position in encouraging students to take the survey.

Professor Judith Squires, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students said: ‘The national student survey (NSS) is an important mechanism for listening to student views. It informs our understanding of what we need to do to enhance the student experience. However, I understand the concern that many students feel about the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), and its link to the national student survey.

‘The Bristol SU boycott has had a clear impact on our survey response rates this year. Only a small number of our programmes have met the threshold for inclusion in national league tables. The University response rate currently stands at 33.6%. It is unlikely that we will now meet our overall data publication threshold of 50%. The failure to meet the publication threshold will not affect the current TEF process as this exercise uses NSS data from the previous three-year period. It will not therefore affect the agreed sector-wide increase in tuition fees for 2017/18 entrants, which will rise in line with inflation, to £9,250.

‘It is not yet clear whether the rankings resulting from the current TEF exercise will be linked to the introduction of differential fee levels in future: this will depend on the outcome of the Parliamentary debate about the HE Bill that is likely to be scheduled for this week, prior to the dissolution of Parliament.

‘We also don’t yet know how the league table compilers or the Higher Education Funding Council for England (which is overseeing the TEF) will deal with the absence of 2017 NSS data for the small number of universities nationally that, like us, have not met the publication threshold. We will provide an update as soon as we have more information.’

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