By Adam Strømme
Editor-in-Chief, Economics and International Relations Student
To most of us, a survey is at best a polite nuisance: a salutary effort we put in in order to help those in charge get a better grip of the situation. But in academia, there is one survey that is not to be trifled with: the National Student Survey, or NSS. The NSS, a simple 27 question assessment circulated to all final year students, is perhaps the single most powerful form of feedback for both universities and prospective students.
Think this a hyperbolic assessment? The University of St Andrews doesn’t.
The NSS is perhaps the single most powerful form of feedback for both universities and prospective students.
From their FY2017 financial statement “The University [of St Andrews] now holds 3rd spot in all three domestic league tables; driven largely by outstanding NSS performance and our ability to attract high quality entrants”. To repeat, on the list of things taking us to the top, it goes NSS, then us. For St Andrews, like all universities, anything which ranks universities constitutes an important source of competition, and competition is the key to survival in the cutthroat world of college admissions. More directly, the NSS ranks universities on things which constitute the core bloc of considerations for anyone going to college, like quality of education and the organization and management of the university. As a result, the NSS is perhaps the single most effect means for universities to telegraph to prospective student’s what they have to offer. Conversely, it is also the single most effective means for graduating students to tell their universities how they are doing.
This brings us to the single most important issue in higher education today: the UCU strikes. As has grown increasingly clear to students, the nature of the standoff between the Universities UK, or UUK and their respective union, the University and College Union, or UCU, is serious. It stems from a hardline position issued by the UUK which seeks to reduce the cost of their shared pension plan, the USS, at a dramatic cost to teachers estimated at over 40% of the entire pension’s value. The UUK insists they are necessary, and the UCU maintains with ample justification they are not, but from the vantage point of a student, the single greatest source of frustration is likely the sense of helplessness which accompanies such titanic struggles. This is where the NSS comes in.
As students, we are assessed by our ability to write essays and perform on certain tests, especially our final examinations. Whatever one’s position on the standoff itself, it is unquestionably in our interest to ensure that our education is as uninterrupted as possible, and that any interruptions are accounted for and mitigated. As a result, it is also in our interest to do whatever is in our power to bring the two sides back to the table to end the standoff so our classes can return to normal and we can go on having a university education.
An explanation of the most important part of our education, and therefore the NSS, cannot in good faith be filled out.
But even if the negotiations produced an amicable settlement tomorrow, we still won’t know how we are affected until we talk with our professors once the strike is over and we sit our final examinations. Therefore, an explanation of the most important part of our education, and therefore the NSS, cannot in good faith be filled out. That said, if we as a student body make it clear to the University— through stern letters to Sally Mapstone and Collegegate— that we won’t fill out the NSS until an agreement is reached, and even then will rightly exercise our right to withhold a positive verdict until we are given a clear sign that the quality and fairness of our education is being protected, we can both help end the standoff sooner and help defend our own unique interests in the conflict.
The conclusion, whatever one’s position on the strikes, is clear: do fill out the NSS, but not yet!
Featured image by NSS.