University of York Students' Union (YUSU)

NSS Referendum - Should we boycott the National Student Survey (NSS)?

What’s going on?

Our Policy & Review Group, headed up by the elected Policy Coordinator, has decided to move forward with a referendum on whether YUSU should support the NUS’s planned boycott of the National Student Survey (NSS). This has been brought forward following the submission of a policy motion which the Officer Group, in conjunction with the PRG felt warranted a cross-campus referendum.  James Humpish, the Policy Coordinator explains: 

"The question of whether YUSU should support a boycott of the NSS was originally supposed to be included in the current policy review. Once the policy pack was released, the officer group considered the time-sensitivity of the issue and voted that it went to referendum as is their prerogative. In any case, it will be the student body as a whole that determine the result and I look forward to an engaging debate, campaigning and voting."

What is the NSS?

The National Student Survey (NSS) is an annual survey of all final year undergraduate degree students at institutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The NSS responses are shared with academic departments at the University of York and is one of many metrics used to develop an annual action plan to improve student experience. The data is also used in the national league tables that rank higher education institutions in the UK.

Last year the NUS passed a motion to boycott the NSS to challenge the government’s proposed reforms to the higher education sector. These reforms include the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) which aims to help students choose where to study, by providing clear information about teaching provision and student outcomes

In this new system, once institutions pass the baseline quality standard they will be allowed to increase tuition fees, in line with inflation. This will create a system of ‘differential’ fees, where fees will vary depending on the institution’s TEF rating. 

The NUS is boycotting the NSS to challenge the government's higher education reforms, in particular the TEF and the link between TEF and an inflationary rise in undergraduate home tuition fees. In this referendum YUSU is asking the students they represent whether they should boycott the NSS. 


What is a YUSU Referendum?

A YUSU referendum is a vote that is open to every student. Students will be asked to respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question

‘Should YUSU campaign for students to boycott the National Student Survey (NSS)?’

The outcome will be decided by a simple majority. If more students vote ‘yes,’ YUSU will campaign for students to support the boycott and encourage students not to engage with this year’s NSS.  

To reach quoracy 5% of YUSU members must vote

Referendum timeline

  • Tuesday 24 January - Referendum announced by YUSU

  • Tuesday 24 January - AM, PRG meets to finalise rules.  PM, rules circulated to campaign leaders and briefing takes place.  

  • Wednesday 25 January (week 3) - Campaigning gets underway

  • Monday 30 January (week 4) - Referendum debate, 6.30pm, SLB/118

  • Monday 30 January (week 4) - Voting opens at 8.30pm

  • Monday 6th February (week 5) - Voting closes at 10am

Why does this matter?

Many students have strong feelings about whether or not YUSU should boycott the NSS. Here are some of the main arguments from the campaigners.

The YES Campaign   The NO Campaign
  • Boycotting the NSS will help the NUS in their fight to disrupt the introduction of the TEF which will lead to the further marketisation of higher education and increased competition rather than cooperation between institutions

  • The NSS is already a controversial mechanism for collecting student feedback as it is open to bias and does not reflect all students – women and academics of colour often rank lower

  • Using NSS data as a metric for the TEF is inherently flawed as it does not directly measure teaching quality which the TEF aims to assess

  • Issues surround the integrity of data have been raised, which may impact on the academic credibility of available programmes

  • Student feedback should be used to improve teaching quality not to increases tuition fees 
  • The NSS provides feedback on courses which can be tracked year by year to improve student experience

  • Academic reps use the NSS to support their arguments in implementing improvements for students in their departments

  • The NSS is the university’s primary tool for acquiring student feedback, without it students will lose a channel to have their voice heard

  • As the NSS feeds into national league tables, boycotting the survey could lead to reputational damage to the University and could potentially devalue degrees

  • A boycott will not make a big enough effect to disrupt the TEF unless every union was involve



What is YUSU’s position? 

The Students’ Union will remain neutral in the referendum. Our priority is to ensure a fair and robust debate, rooted in factual information, in which every University of York student that wishes to participate is able to do so. Student members, including Elected Officers are free to participate but they do not represent an official YUSU view on the question of a boycott.  YUSU will proceed with planning to promote the NSS as normal, until such a time as a policy is passed requiring a change of approach.   


How do I campaign? 

Any student at the University of York can get involved with campaigning to persuade students to vote for or against YUSU’s NSS boycott. Contact your campaign leaders for more information:

YES -    Sophie Finders Yes Group Facebook Page
NO - Will Gibb No Group Facebook Page 

If you have any complaints please complete the form below and send it to the Deputy Returning Officer Tom Meares at

Information on the rules of the referendum can be found in the document below.

Complaints Form 

Election Rules

Deputy Returning Officer Report