The Office for Students (OfS) board has agreed the future of the National Student Survey following the announcement of first stage of a review which will help reduce bureaucratic burden while ensuring the NSS remains an important indicator of students’ opinions and experiences.
The review follows a request by the universities minister to address concerns about how survey may be creating burden and impacting on standards, while ensuring the NSS remains an important indicator of student opinion.
A two-stage internal review process of the survey is to be conducted. As phase one has now concluded, phase two will be undertaken. This phase will look more widely at the role of the NSS, including which questions should be asked to support regulation and student information across all four countries of the UK.
NSS review report: phase one
The OfS board approved the following actions for phase two of the review:
- Sampling: An annual census is the most appropriate level at which the NSS could continue to provide reliable data on the student perspective on their subjects, their providers and the wider system.
- Ensure the survey stands the test of time: Phase two will review current questions to ensure they remain fit for purpose and stand the test of time. This will include the removal of the term ‘satisfaction’ from any summative question or aggregate score to replace question 27.
- Data publication: The continued publication of the NSS results in line with the robust requirements official statistics whilst retaining the right not to publish in exceptional circumstances, in accordance with the OfS scheme of delegation for data publication.
- Reducing burden on providers: The OfS should improve user guidance to providers and students’ unions on responsible statistical use of NSS results. The OfS should also improve the data dissemination site to help remove burden on providers.
- Preventing gaming of the survey: The OfS should raise student and students’ union awareness of the allegation of inappropriate influence process, including what may constitute inappropriate influence.
NSS review phase two
Phase two of the review will be managed by the OfS on behalf of the four funders and regulators for higher education in the UK:
- Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW)
- The Scottish Funding Council (SFC)
- The Department for Economy Northern Ireland (DfENI).
Phase two of the review will explore:
- Potential changes to the questions of the NSS to ensure they remain relevant and fit for purpose now and in the future.
- Potential changes to the publication of NSS data, including the reporting thresholds, to ensure it meets the needs of users and is easy to understand.
- Providing improved guidance to assist universities, colleges and student unions on responsible statistical use of the NSS.
- Improving the data visualisation and functionality of the NSS dissemination site.
- Increasing awareness of what constitutes inappropriate influence and how to report it.
As part of this phase, we will undertake an open consultation process, which will include:
- stakeholder workshops
- evidence sessions with key stakeholders
- a formal sector-wide consultation.
We will be facilitating a series of open stakeholder workshops throughout the summer of 2021. These sessions will look at how the NSS can better provide information for applicants, enable academic enhancement and support public accountability. Anyone is welcome to attend these workshops. To sign up to one of these, please see our event page.
New questions will be comprehensively tested including cognitive testing with students and we aim to pilot the changes alongside the 2022 NSS. Any question changes will be subject to consultation outcomes. We will aim to launch any new survey questions for NSS 2023.
Alongside the possible new questions, the revised data dissemination site is planned for launch in time for the 2023 survey results.
We have formed an advisory group for phase two comprising of students, provider representatives, academics and representatives from the four UK funders and regulators of higher education. This group will feed into the development of the NSS and the outcomes of the review. The membership of this group can be found below.
Methodology and collecting feedback
Phase two of the review is an open consultation on potential changes to the NSS. This means that there will be multiple opportunities for stakeholders, including students to engage.
As part of any proposals to change the dissemination site, guidance and the NSS questions, we will undertake detailed user testing.
As part of this phase, we will also undertake data analysis to explore:
- the current reporting thresholds for the NSS.
Previous updates to the National Student Survey
In 2017 a new National Student Survey was introduced following extensive research. The new survey included nine new questions on student engagement and updated questions on assessment and feedback and learning resources.
The new survey was evaluated to see how it had worked in practice and to establish if there were any issues. See the report detailing findings from the student and institutional online surveys.
In 2018 existing optional banks were supplemented with new banks of questions.
From 2014 to 2016, there was a review of information on higher education, for which two major pieces of research were published:
In 2015, testing to inform a new survey was undertaken, including initial cognitive testing of potential student engagement questions, and a national pilot.
In 2016 there was a sector consultation on the new survey, and the outcomes the consultation were published.
Following this, we undertook further cognitive testing and another pilot to help inform the new survey questions. New optional bank questions were tested and students’ understanding of the optional bank questions was explored.
If you have any questions or comments about the NSS review, please email [email protected].