Durham Moves Up the Rankings as Other Universities Boycott NSS

By Ben Sladden 

The results of the 2017 National Student Survey (NSS) published this week place Durham University 19th in the UK for overall student satisfaction, amid widespread boycotting of the controversial survey.

The University achieved an overall course satisfaction level of 89%, placing it amongst the best performing of the Russell Group universities involved in this year’s survey.

The percentage of Durham final-year students satisfied with their course remains at the same level as last year; however, Durham’s ranking has moved from 35th to 19th.

Tied first place were Buckingham, St Andrews and the Royal Veterinary College. All three institutions achieved 94% student satisfaction rates.

The results, published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), have revealed an overall decline in levels of student satisfaction nationally for the first time in years. Last year, 86% of finalists were content with the quality of their course; this has dropped to 84% this year.

Numbers of final year students responding to the survey also dropped, with 8,000 fewer students taking part this year. Only 68% of those students targeted responded to the survey, a fall from the 72% in 2016.

A number of high profile universities boycotted the NSS as part of a nationwide protest. As a result, Cambridge, Oxford, UCL, Manchester and Sheffield have been omitted from the results. At these universities, the turnout requirement of 50% was not reached.

This boycott, instigated by the NUS, aimed to protest the controversial new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a new Government system that aims to measure quality of teaching. The results of the NSS are used into order to inform TEF rankings. Those universities with the highest rankings are able to raise fees in line with inflation.

The NUS Vice President for Higher Education, Amatey Doku, said: “The Government wanted to use [Wednesday’s] NSS results to allow universities which scored highly to raise fees from £9,000 to over £10,000 by 2020 as part of their draconian reforms to higher education.

“Our membership made it clear to us that they found this unacceptable and demanded we campaign to sever any link between their crude Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and a rise in tuition fees which would hit students hard.”

The results of the TEF were published earlier this year, ranking British universities as ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’ or ‘Bronze’. Durham was ranked ‘Silver’, meaning it can raise fees above £9,250 for the 2018/19 academic year.

Chief executive of HEFCE, Professor Madeleine Atkins, said the NSS had been enhanced with new and revised questions this year, commenting:

“The NSS continues to be the largest and most authoritative survey of its kind in the UK. The 2017 results show that students provide particularly positive feedback on the quality of teaching and on learning opportunities. Institutions will also, however, be considering carefully how they can continue to improve assessment and feedback, and their broader engagement with students.”

Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

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