‘TU/e students must be able to fill in NSE anonymously’

By way of a letter sent at the end of November, Groep-één drew the attention of the Executive Board to ‘a dark aspect of the National Student Survey’. ‘At the request of universities and universities of applied sciences, the NSE no longer saves its survey anonymously; instead all the answers given by students are linked to a code, a pseudonym. In what is known as a key file, these codes can be linked to student names.

We have recently learned that educational institutions can request this key file,’ states the letter. ‘In practice this means that the NSE is not an anonymized survey, but a survey whereby all the answers given can be traced back to the students who completed it.’

The Board had already reported that TU/e has never previously requested the key file. Groep-één was seeking guarantees for the future, however, and so asked the Executive Board for three things. Firstly, that the Board ‘in order to guarantee the privacy of students [would] speak out against the use of the key file’. At the time of its distribution, it should be clearly stated that the NSE is a  pseudo-anonymized survey, requested Groep-één. Lastly, the student faction called on the Executive Board to ask its colleague Boards to take the same approach.

The Executive Board is able to fulfill these promises in part, as is evident from a response since received by the student faction. The gist of the message is that the Board's decision not to use the key file was a deliberate one, taken because it ‘attaches great value to students having the option to complete the NSE anonymously’. The Board also states that it ‘does not intend to use the key file in future.’

The Data Protection Regulation that becomes effective on May 25 2018 requires Studiekeuze 123 – the party responsible for the NSE – to ask all respondents whether they give permission for their data to be used. In view of this, the NSE 2018 includes a question that specifically requests permission. Studiekeuze 123 has given TU/e assurances that it will include words here to the effect that TU/e will make no use of the key, so the Board reports. Furthermore, the Executive Board is of the opinion that other institutions should be left to decide where they stand on this matter.

Yoram Meijaard of Groep-één says that his faction ‘is very satisfied’ with this response. “It safeguards the privacy of students at our institution. We feel it would be courteous if, when the survey is sent out, the Board would say that this isn't an anonymous survey, even though the key file won't be used. Furthermore, Groep-één understands that the Executive Board passes no judgment on other universities for using the key file, though we ourselves regret the decision to do so.”

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