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NUS urges students to boycott Government's trojan horse plan to raise fees

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The National Union of Students (NUS) is calling for a boycott of the 2017 National Student Survey (NSS), claiming it could be used as a justification for tuition fee increases under the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

The annual survey is used to measure the perceptions of final year undergraduates at higher education institutions nationwide and "enhance the learning experience for future students," according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The NUS claims that the survey will be used as a way to increase fees by subterfuge. Writing in the Guardian, NUS Vice President for Education Sorana Vieru argued that students completing the survey would be "complicit" in the raising of fees for future generations. She added that there was no guarantee that fee limits would not become "completely uncapped" in future, raising the possibility of annual fees above £12,000 by 2020.

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Under the TEF, NSS data from 2016, 2017 and 2018 will be used to rank universities' teaching quality as either gold, silver or bronze. Universities ranked gold or silver will be able to increase their tuition fees by up to 100% of the rate of inflation, while bronze-ranked universities will only be able to add a 50% increase.

Vieru told Buzzfeed News that a tiered system of fee increases would unfairly penalise smaller universities, which would recieve less money in fees as a result as students were forced to pay more money to attend better performing institutions. She accused the government of an "ideological" desire to commercialise the higher education system, which would create a division in the sector.

Doubts have also been raised about the link between NSS scores and teaching standards. Dr Tim Lancaster, Head of Clinical Studies at the University of Oxford, found that the NSS results have "little or no value" as a metric of teaching quality. Vieru described the three metrics considered by the TEF (dropout rates, graduate destinations, and salaries) as a "poorly thought through approximation".

Universities are allowed to spend large amounts of money on incentives encouraging students to participate in the survey. Some institutions have seen a response rate of higher than 80% in previous years. Vieru claimed that even a "small reduction" in student participation would send a clear message to the government.

20 NUS-affiliated University Unions have already expressed support for the boycott, which will last until April. Others have decided not to promote the campaign. The HEFCE told Buzzfeed it would monitor how the boycott affects the results of the complete survey.

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