National Student Survey - guide for students

Inappropriate influence

The NSS should reflect what you think about your course. It's important that your university or college doesn't do anything that could influence your response.

Postcard about inappropriate influence in the NSS

For the NSS to be useful as many eligible students as possible need to take part. This means that it's important to promote the survey.

Ipsos run a national publicity campaign. Universities and colleges are also encouraged to run their own campaigns with their students and staff.  

They may choose to do this in different ways:

  • promoting on social media
  • placing posters around campus
  • emails to eligible students to invite them to complete the survey
  • engaging departments and teaching staff to give NSS information through lecture shout-outs
  • engaging student bodies and representatives to give NSS information
  • use of prize draws, incentives or competitions to encourage completion.

By 'inappropriate influence' we mean:

... ‘any activity which may encourage students to reflect anything other than their true opinion of their experiences during their course in their NSS responses’.

Universities and colleges often promote the survey directly to their students in a range of ways.

But the NSS should reflect what you think about your course. Your university or college should not influence your response.

Inappropriate influence can happen through:

  • email
  • face-to-face sessions and lectures
  • posters, materials and activities
  • student-to-student communications
  • communications from student organisations, such as your students’ union.
How universities and colleges can promote the NSS
Run a neutral campaign that focuses solely on boosting responses in the NSS.  
Give examples of where previous NSS feedback has resulted in specific improvements at the university or college.  
Encourage eligible students to take part.  
Allow students to give feedback regardless of their opinion.  
Use neutral language when discussing the NSS.  
Promote the NSS in departments or courses with low response rates.  
Inform students that they are free to interpret the survey questions how they wish.  
Hold voluntary NSS completion sessions.  
Ensure students have total privacy when completing the survey.  
Use incentives or a prize draw to promote the survey.  
Ensure that all staff are aware of the guidelines.  
How universities and colleges cannot promote the NSS
Embed NSS marketing activity in broader promotional activities, for example ‘Pride’ and ‘I Love’ campaigns.  X
Combine the NSS with other surveys at the university or college.  X
Advise you how to interpret the survey questions or response scale.  X
Advise or ask you to respond in a certain way.  X
Make entering a prize draw a condition of completing the NSS.  X
Link the NSS to league tables or the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).   X
Tell you that negative responses to the NSS could make your degree look bad to future employers.  X
Say that the survey is compulsory.  X
Make it a requirement or pressure you to attend dedicated NSS sessions.  X
Take you through the survey on an individual basis or do the survey with you.   X
Complete the survey on your behalf.  X

Inappropriate influence can affect the integrity of the NSS results. If an investigation concludes that a university or college had used inappropriate influence, this could mean we do not publish the results for affected courses at the relevant university or college in that year.

This would also mean that the results wouldn't be available for:

  • marketing activities
  • learning enhancement work
  • inclusion on websites with course comparison information such as Discover Uni, and the OfS's website.

How to report inappropriate influence

If you think that your university or college is inappropriately influencing students’ responses to the NSS, email [email protected].

Where possible, include the following detail:

  • the full name of the person raising the concern, where relevant their university or college or organisation name, their contact email address or postal address and contact telephone number
  • the name of the university or college and course to which the NSS data results relate
  • the nature of the concern, the date and, if relevant, the time of the interaction which caused the concern, including any supporting evidence or information
  • if and when a concern has been submitted to a university or college or student organisation and, if so, why they were dissatisfied with the university’s or college’s or organisation's handling of the concern.

Concerns may be raised at any time, but it’s helpful to raise them as early as possible, particularly while the survey is active from January to April.

Please note, we cannot disclose the details of the investigation and whether any further regulatory action will be taken in respect of a particular university or college to those who raised a concern.

We will process all concerns in line with the allegations privacy notice.

More about procedures for investigating inappropriate influence

Last updated 25 October 2021
25 October 2021
Page revised to include the latest information on inappropriate influence in the NSS.
29 January 2021
Privacy notice link updated

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