National Student Survey - NSS

Review of the NSS

In 2020 the Office for Students (OfS), Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and Department for the Economy Northern Ireland (DfENI) began a two-stage review of the NSS.

The aim was to ensure the NSS remains fit for purpose and continues to support regulation and student information across the UK. This review is now complete.

Phase one

In phase one we developed recommendations to address concerns about the extent to which the survey may be creating burden for providers and impacting on standards, while ensuring the NSS remains an important indicator of student opinion.

Read the NSS review phase one report.

Phase two

Phase two took a broad view across the NSS, to consider its role and the questions the survey should pose to students. Work included:

  • question development and testing
  • a large-scale pilot
  • stakeholder engagement
  • redevelopment of the student guide on inappropriate influence.

Further information about different elements of the review, the methods we used and how we worked with stakeholders are detailed below.

In spring and summer 2021, we undertook extensive stakeholder engagement activity to understand views about the content of the NSS questionnaire and wider methodological issues with the survey.

Insight from these sessions became the basis for questionnaire development work. Revised and new questions were cognitively tested by Shift Insight Ltd.

Findings from the cognitive testing were used to inform the development of different versions of an NSS questionnaire. The pilots were UK-wide conducted with a sample of final year undergraduate students who completed the NSS 2022 from January to March 2022. The pilot was administered in English and in Welsh and online and via telephone.

The pilot tested two versions of the questionnaire:

  1. Existing, revised and new questions with the existing response scale.
  2. Existing, revised and new questions with a new direct questions response scale.

The pilot aimed to understand the similarities and differences in patterns of response, and to evaluate the new questions and response scale.

Analysis of the pilot data has informed the proposals included within the 2022 consultation on changes to the NSS.

Read the report on the outcomes of the pilot.

In July 2022 we consulted on potential changes to the NSS that would take effect from 2023. Our proposals were informed by the work already completed in phases one and two, and covered:

  • scope of the survey
  • changes to the questionnaire
  • periodic review of the survey
  • survey fieldwork timing
  • Welsh language.

See the analysis of consultation responses and decisions

Following the changes to the NSS survey, the UK funding and regulatory bodies held a technical consultation with providers in March 2023 to consult on the approach to publishing results from NSS 2023 following the introduction of new direct questions with new 4 point item specific response scales.

Read the analysis of consultation responses and decisions

We have updated our information about the NSS data. This gives detailed guidance on how to use the NSS published or unpublished data in marketing materials, and further technical guidance on how to interpret the results of the new survey for 2023.

Discussion events took place in 2022 to gather feedback on the proposed data dissemination principles, and hear what users thought of the current data provision, what they use the data for and how it meets their needs.

An annual feedback survey was also carried out with NSS results portal users. The survey focused on gathering feedback from all users about their experiences of using the results portal, the services offered and to identify areas for improvement.

The information gathered from the events and annual survey will be used as part of further work to improve NSS data dissemination to providers.

We redeveloped a guide for students which sets out what the NSS is and how it is promoted by providers.

The aim of the guide is to help students to identify inappropriate influence by setting out the types of promotion universities and colleges are and are not allowed to undertake.

It also explains the process for raising allegations of inappropriate influence and what happens in case of a breach of guidance.

Along with the guide, social media assets were produced for providers to use to raise awareness with their students.   

The guide for students and social media assets have been embedded into the NSS annual promotional activity for providers.

Additional information

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.

See the membership of the advisory group

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 of the consultation were published.

Following this, further cognitive testing was undertaken 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.

In 2017 a new NSS was introduced. 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.


If you have any questions or comments about the NSS review, please email [email protected].

Published 24 September 2020
Last updated 11 August 2023
11 August 2023
Updated to reflect decisions made following consultation on publication.
11 January 2023
Minor page updates to reflect the current status of the NSS review
15 August 2022
The time of the deadline to respond to the NSS consultation has been clarified as 1700 on 1 September 2022.
28 July 2022
Added information about the NSS consultation, and a link to the report on the outcomes of the pilot questionnaires
30 June 2022
Updated NSS external advisory group members
23 June 2022
Updated NSS external advisory group members
27 May 2022
Stakeholder engagement events have now closed.
16 May 2022
Added details of stakeholder engagement events.
14 February 2022
Updated NSS external advisory group members
05 January 2022
Update and restructure of information about the NSS review
26 November 2021
Updated NSS external advisory group members
29 April 2021
Updated to reflect phase two of review
30 March 2021
NSS review report added
30 November 2020
Membership of the NSS working group added.
27 October 2020
Update to the methodology and collecting feedback section and the terms of reference. Word version of stakeholder survey added.
23 October 2020
Links to register for student and student unions' workshops removed
21 October 2020
Link added to the NSS stakeholder survey
09 October 2020
Details of students' union roundtable event added
06 October 2020
Links added to register for student workshops

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