The National Student Survey is more dangerous than just tuition fee hikes


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By Scarlett Sherriff, Fourth Year French and Spanish

It is about time we get back to boycotting the NSS.

When the National Student Survey (NSS) e-mail arrived in my inbox I felt momentarily repulsed. Then I just laughed.

They addressed me like it was an honour. They even used my name, 'Dear Miss Sherriff, I am writing to invite you to take part in the National Student Survey'.

But final years, I implore you: do not fall for their slippery, slimy tricks.

It is about a cult of perfectionism that means everything has to be ranked and measured.

One of the emails’ vapid sentences read: 'You have the unique opportunity to have your say about your higher education experience. Your honest feedback with be used to make real change for fellow students and help prospective students decide what and where to study.'

The real change they are talking about is the commercialisation of education.

The survey has been taking place since 2005, but in 2017 a government initiative named the 'Teaching Excellence Framework' said they would use it as part of their ranking system of gold, silver and bronze universities

Of course, they would argue that it is to hold universities to account. To do so they use nausea-inducing jargon like, ‘this is so we can raise standards’.

But, something has happened since 2017 - the upping of tuition fees across the Russell Group, from £9,000 to £9,250 per year. Theresa May froze fees in October 2017, but in time they are expected to rise with inflation.

In 2016/2017, Zoe Backhouse, who worked for Bristol SU as Undergraduate Education Officer fronted the campaign at the University to boycott the NSS.

Since then, it has barely been mentioned.

We all need to get back to boycotting the NSS. This is about more than fees and cringey surveys that make you look around for a sick bucket. It is about a cult of perfectionism that means everything has to be ranked and measured.

Seventeen-year-olds increasingly base their decision about where to apply on a number, or more insidiously on where their helicopter parents tell them is ‘the best’.

Now as finalists we are told to ‘rank’ our experiences.

This assumes that everything is supposed to be perfect, that you always have to have the best and easiest time for something to be worthwhile. This is nonsensical, because one of the first truisms we were all taught is, ‘learn from your mistakes’. No-one gets better if they do not get it wrong sometimes.

Businesses have always loved a well-manicured finished product. It is no surprise that Google’s careers website says, ‘All Googlers have access to excellent healthcare choices [...] many of our offices are equipped with fitness [centres] and classes to save you time and keep you fit’. We are deluded if we think they are doing this out of the generosity of their hearts. They want employees to look good, and they want them to use their time ‘productively’ as much as possible. Profit is profit after all. In 2017 and 2018 Google parent company Alphabet ranked number one in Forbe’s Global 2000 list of the World’s Best Employers. Like the National Student Survey, this list assumes experiences can be ranked numerically.

Forbes thinks there are ways you can classify the best employer, seemingly a place with gyms, high salaries and weird, playful staff areas to inspire ‘creativity’.

The real change they are talking about is the commercialisation of education.

What if an employee does not want the pressure to be creative all the time, what if they want to get the hell out of work and sit with their headphones and some thought-deafening music for a while? I for one cannot imagine being creative in an environment of dizzying bright colours and permanently smiling co-workers.
It is obviously not a catch-all solution, but corporations want it to be.
They would love to find a perfectly methodical, perfectly organised, even perfectly creative robot, that can always be productive and is emotionless, to do their work.

University is increasingly corporate. 'Employability' is a buzzword we have all seen.

Universities are having to gear us up for that world because we are paying, and we need jobs. Let us not forget that critical thinking does not have a place at big businesses - whistle blowers must often stay anonymous after all.

Numerical rankings can be useful in some ways, to give a broad idea of where an institution lies in the grand scheme of things, but they should not be used to give prizes to tax-avoiding employers, and they should not be used to justify tuition fee rises.

Not only does the National Student Survey potentially help beak our purses, it sustains a trend in which we are automatons who consume and are consumed.

We must boycott the NSS - and not just because it is corny.

Featured image: Unsplash/Caleb Woods

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