The National Student Survey (NSS) is a government-run survey open to all undergraduate finalists at UK universities. Cambridge students have successfully boycotted the NSS for four years, motivated by concerns about the survey's role in the marketisation of Higher Education and the desire to prioritise genuine, Cambridge-specific consultation with students by the University.
In 2022, following considerable effort since 2017, the University met the demands of the SU’s NSS boycott, and so the boycott was called off. Read the statement here. This year we are once again calling on the University to meet a set of demands directly related to educational experience and the marketisation of Higher Education.
If you’re an undergraduate finalist, you will be contacted about filling in the survey in Lent Term. This page is intended to provide information to help you understand why Cambridge SU boycotts the NSS, and share the demands for this year's boycott.
This year's demands
The University wants students to complete the NSS. To alleviate the student concerns and demonstrate commitment to engaging with student feedback, we are asking the University has met the demands of the 2023 NSS boycott.
The University should commit to making lecture capture compulsory for all faculties and departments.
The NSS has questions about course organisation and learning resources. We have seen that poor scheduling has led many students to have to miss clashing contact hours, and those contact hours have not been recorded leaving students unable to catch up. Given that the NSS is used to compare higher education institutions, it is worth noting that lecture capture is something that Cambridge is significantly behind the sector on. Ultimately, the lack of lecture capture, particularly in the Schools of Arts and Humanities and Humanities and Social Sciences, disproportionately impacts disabled students. If the University wants to improve the student experience for all, lecture capture is a crucial part of this picture.
The University should lobby the government to not raise tuition fees above £9,250 per year.
Cambridge SU believes that higher education should be free for all, and the NSS and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) are intrinsically linked to reasons that higher education institutions and the government give in the case to increase tuition fees. In the context of the climbing cost of living, this issue is even more serious, and students cannot be expected to shoulder more loans.
The University should oppose its inclusion in University league tables.
By engaging with the NSS and TEF, the University is an active promoter of the marketisation of higher education, allowing and encouraging its comparison to other institutions, all of which have different strengths and weaknesses. Each student should choose a university that suits their individual needs, not one that sits at the top of an arbitrary league table. The NSS is essentially designed to allow Russell Group universities to top league tables, and these tables are never able to capture the nuances of strengths at individual providers.
Tue 31 Jan 2023
It's 2023, and the boycott is back!
Mon 21 Mar 2022
Fri 18 Feb 2022
Frequently Asked Questions
What are our concerns about the NSS?
The results of the NSS are used to inform league tables, and potentially a government-proposed framework for measuring Universities called the Teaching Excellence Framework which could be used to raise tuition fees at well-performing institutions and lower them at others, further entrenching inequality in Higher Education. The primacy of the NSS as a conduit for student opinion damages the quality of the education we receive by forcing universities to pour money into marketing and superficial or misguided changes that drive up "satisfaction" statistics without tackling real structural issues or collecting meaningful and actionable feedback from Cambridge students.
There are also serious concerns about the quality of the data collected in the NSS, which has been shown to disadvantage women and BME academics as well as discourage innovative teaching, which means we do not believe NSS data should be uncritically used to inform changes to education, or measure ‘teaching excellence’. The university has many other ways of getting genuinely useful and insightful feedback from students and hearing their views, including through student representatives like Academic Reps, J/MCRs, SU Campaigns, and the SU Sabbatical Officers.
If I complete the NSS, how will my data be used?
Anonymised NSS results are only made public when they meet the 50% overall response rate threshold. Comments that respondents make are made available to the University but not published. If the 50% threshold is met, results are published by the Office for Students on their website.
You can find the NSS privacy statement here.
NSS results may be used to inform changes to education in your department or faculty, as well as changes to things like learning resources, facilities and student support.
What do I do if I think the University is inappropriately influencing NSS responses?
Universities must not influence students to complete the NSS in a way which does not reflect their true opinion of their own experiences. You can find information about reporting concerns about inappropriate influence here.
If I choose not to complete the NSS, how do I opt-out?
In order to not complete the survey, all you need to do is ignore the email and phone call reminders to do so. If you want to stop receiving reminders, you can opt out. To do so click here, or go to thestudentsurvey.com, scroll right down the page, click "Opt-Out" in the bottom right corner, and follow the instructions to opt out.
Can I withdraw my response if I have already completed the NSS?
Yes! All you need to do is send a quick email to email@example.com including your name and University, and your response can’t be used.
How can I make my views known to the university without the NSS?
The University does take student feedback seriously, but the NSS is far from the only or the best way to express your views.
We encourage you to complete end of term or end of year feedback forms, which are considered by Departments and Faculties in shaping course content and delivery. You can also talk directly to your subject rep who can pass on any concerns or ideas you have directly to the Faculty Board.
Another positive way of expressing your views to the University is nominating someone in Cambridge SU's Student-Led Teaching Awards. Nominations for 2022 have now closed, but you will be able to nominate staff for the 2023 Awards in Michaelmas term. The SLTAs report, detailing what students consider excellent teaching and student support, is seen by some of the most senior Cambridge committees.
Finally, if you have a specific issue with your teaching or support which you would like to see addressed you can always contact your UG Access, Education and Participation Officer Neve at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll make sure to take it to our regular meetings with senior University staff, or refer you to the right person.