Bristol SU have met their NSS boycott target… here's how they did it

Monday 06-03-2017 - 15:56

Bristol Students’ Union have met their target for the number of students pledging to boycott the National Students’ Survey, with 10 per cent of their final year students promising to boycott. Education Officer Zoe Backhouse gives us the story of their campaign.

We knew from Day 1 that if we wanted our boycott campaign to be as successful as it can be, it was important that we were clear and relevant to our students. Our message was simple: the university wants to use your feedback to raise tuition fees. If you don’t want to be complicit in that, do not fill in the survey.

When all of our final third years were sent an email to fill in the NSS before the agreed date behind the back of our university, it’s fair to say it caught us slightly by surprise. From that point, we had to ensure that any comms promoting the NSS were immediately followed by a message from us, explaining exactly what is happening to NSS data this year and why students should boycott.

Inspired by the NSS Boycott Dank Memes Stash on Facebook, and looking at the stuffy way in which the NSS was promoted, we knew that humour and friendliness were on our side. However, for every communication from the NSS or the university, we were quick to offer a rebuttal: offering an alternative interpretation, often drawing on our top-notch humour here at Bristol SU.

Here are some of our top tips from what we’ve learnt so far for a successful boycott campaign:

Make the Arguments Accessible

The first step is to establish a pledge website. Ours has our video, FAQs, clear link to our pledge form and all the background info to the campaign. This is super useful so you spend as little time explaining stuff as possible and you can always direct people there.

All our social media coverage is really positive and I like to keep students updated with our number of pledges so they feel they're part of something successful.  We post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and include updates in our newsletter. It's also good sharing things from other unions so your students see themselves as part of the national picture and the boycotting crowd!

Think Creatively

Where possible we wanted to engage with students creatively and as innovatively as possible. To this end, we launched our boycott video – which to date has received over 30,000 views and over 350 shares. This is one way to translate a potentially complex argument into clear and concise message through a format that is really easy to digest.


This boycott has such a simple message and one which is much easier than other campaigns you may run as an SU. That means you can be creative! We've baked cakes for final years, hung a banner every day this week, embroidered 'Boycott the NSS' on a hat... you can do anything. The main importance of this is for social media: get good pictures and use them in all your comms! 

Engage Volunteers

One of the most important aspects of any successful campaign is how you mobilise and engage your volunteers. We worked with teams of volunteers to talk to students on campus, deliver lecture shoutouts, post in all sorts of student groups on Facebook and tasked our final year friends with finding the students that might not have heard from us.

Use your Student Media

We have had several articles in our student newspaper, Epigram, and have one coming out in the feminist magazine, Her Campus. We try to keep this coverage as regular as possible so students are hearing about the boycott *from students* not just from Union channels.

It's also sparked debate and meant people are beginning to formulate opinions on either side. Whilst we'd of course want everyone to boycott this is so good because they are actually questioning and becoming active! Loads of people are just chatting about it independently because it's sparked debate. 

You can find our NSS Boycott hub with all of the resources, tools and tips here.


Campaigns, Education, Features

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