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Q&As for institutions

What is the National Student Survey (NSS)?

The NSS is a high profile annual census of nearly half a million students across the UK. Conducted annually since 2005, it is an established survey and produces useful data to help institutions and students unions identify areas of success and areas for enhancement. It also provides helpful information for prospective students deciding what and where to study. The survey runs across all publicly funded Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, as well as all Alternative Providers (APs) in England, with specific course designation for new students. Additionally, Further Education Colleges (FECs) in England and Further Education Institutions (FEIs) in Wales with directly funded Higher Education students are eligible to participate.

The survey is aimed at mainly final year undergraduates with the purpose of gathering feedback from all eligible students at the end of their studies. Students are asked to respond to 27 single choice questions relating to various aspects of their course. They are also given the opportunity to make open-ended positive and negative comments on their overall student learning experience at their university or college.


Why is the NSS conducted?

The NSS is conducted for three main reasons;

  1. To inform student choice - it provides the opportunity for current students to tell future students what they think about the quality of their course
  2. To provide information to enhance the student learning experience- institutions use the results to help develop their courses and facilities for future students
  3. To provide public assurance- the survey is also a mechanism for the general public to be provided with information about the quality of UK higher education.

Who benefits from the NSS?

Student feedback provides institutions with a picture of what the learning experience was like for students completing their course in 2017. Institutions and Students' Unions (Association or Guild) can use the anonymised data internally to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses, to help effect change, and to bring about enhancements intended to improve the student experience. More widely, the survey results inform the higher education quality assurance system to generate information about teaching quality.

The NSS results are made publicly available to help prospective students make informed decisions about where and what to study. Data from the NSS are made publicly available on Unistats. This official site allows prospective students to compare information across s higher education courses.

HEFCE publish overall results on their website which can be downloaded. Open comment data is not published and is only seen by your institution.


What is being asked in the survey?

Core questions

The survey asks undergraduates to provide feedback on their courses in a nationally recognised format. There are 27 core questions, relating to the following aspects of the student learning experience:

    • Teaching on my course
    • Learning opportunities
    • Assessment and feedback
    • Academic support
    • Organisation and management
    • Learning resources
    • Learning community
    • Student voice
    • Overall Satisfaction

Open comments

Students are also given the opportunity to give positive and negative comments on their student learning experience as a whole at their university or college. If comments are provided, these will be passed on, anonymously, to the institution to help them identify how they can make improvements. They may also be used by HEFCE or researchers with a license/contractual arrangement with HEFCE to undertake research. No student will be identified in any published materials. Please note that the open-ended questions are optional and there is a maximum word limit of 4,000 characters.

To preserve their and others' anonymity, students are asked not to make comments that:

  • could enable them as an individual to be identified;
  • name individuals; or
  • make references that could identify an individual e.g. a course leader or head of department.

The National Student Survey Questionnaire


Additional Optional Questions

Some institutions have opted to ask their students additional questions. Students will only be asked these extra questions after they have completed the main questionnaire online. Completion of these extra questions is not obligatory, and if a student declines to do so, their answers for the main NSS questions will still be taken into account. The answers to these questions will only be provided to the student's institution and students' union and will not be made publicly available.

Intentions after Graduation Survey

Students may also be asked if they wish to take part in the Intentions after Graduation Survey (IAGS). Please note that this survey is separate to the National Student Survey. Completion of this survey is not obligatory and students can decline the invitation to complete it. Their answers for the NSS will still be submitted regardless of whether they complete the IAGS.

Do all students answer the same questions?

The NSS consists of 27 single choice questions and two free-response questions (you can see the National Student Survey Questionnaire here). All students will be asked these questions. If students are studying NHS-funded courses, they will also be asked questions about their placements. A student's university or college may choose to ask some additional questions as well, which may be specific to that institution.

Who is eligible to complete the NSS?

The survey runs across all publicly funded Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, as well as all Alternative Providers (APs) in England, with specific course designation for new students. Additionally, Further Education Colleges (FECs) in England and Further Education Institutions (FEIs) in Wales with directly funded Higher Education students are eligible to participate.

All students studying on courses leading to undergraduate credits or qualifications (such as Bachelor's Degrees, Foundation Degrees, Higher Education Certificates and Diplomas) will be surveyed in their final year of study.

In addition, students on more flexible part-time programmes (whose final year cannot be easily predicted) will normally be surveyed during their fourth year of study. Students who have withdrawn from study during their final year will be included in the survey as their feedback is equally valuable. Students repeating their penultimate year will be surveyed (NOT when they eventually progress to their final year but in the year they were originally expected to graduate). Students who have changed their course arrangements, but were originally expected to graduate in 2017, will only be eligible in the current year and not when they eventually reach their final year. Students who were already surveyed in 2016 will not be surveyed in 2017.

For more detailed eligibility criteria, click here.

How can students participate in the NSS?

All eligible students will be contacted by Ipsos MORI, by email or telephone.

They will be asked for some personal data in order to verify that they are eligible to take part. If their personal information is not accurate, we may re-contact them to validate their response. Once they have completed the survey they should not be contacted again or receive further reminders from Ipsos MORI.

The online survey is linked to a live database of eligible students. Our database is updated on a regular basis. If students continue to receive reminders after they have completed the survey, this may be because we could not match the details they supplied to the ones supplied by their institution, or because there was some overlap between when they submitted their response and when we re-contacted them. We will attempt to contact students by email, then, if we have no response, by telephone.


Will student responses be confidential?

Responses to the survey are strictly confidential, and all responses are anonymised before they are shared with the institution to ensure individuals cannot be identified.

Ipsos MORI is one of the largest and best known research companies in the UK and a key part of Ipsos, a leading global research company. Find out more about our work.

Who runs the NSS?

The NSS is run by Ipsos MORI and commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), the Department for Economy Northern Ireland (DfENI), Health Education England (HEE), National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) and participating private/alternative Higher Education providers and Scottish Higher Education Institutions.

How can staff contribute to the NSS, and why is their help important?

Around 40% of online respondents (among those who responded to an optional marketing question at the end of the NSS online survey) indicated that they were told about the survey by a lecturer/member of staff.

Academic staff are often the best positioned to speak about the benefits and importance of the survey. They can communicate directly with students about how the results will be used by prospective students and how they will be or have been used to improve the student learning experience at the institution more generally. It is crucial that academic staff stress objectivity in speaking about the NSS because of the way the results will be used by prospective students, institutions, SUs, and other stakeholders.


Why is it important to meet the reporting thresholds?

In order for results to be made publicly available, a publication threshold of 10 respondents and a 50% response rate must be met. NSS data remains an important tool for helping prospective students make decisions about what and where to study in the future. The higher the response rate, the greater the likelihood of course-level data being made publicly available.

What should I do if an eligible student is unable to complete the survey?

Please send an email including the student's name and student number to the dedicated NSS helpline and we can check whether the student is in our database of eligible students. Students can also contact us directly at thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com

What is inappropriate influence?

It is appropriate to remind students that they should complete the NSS and that they should consider their responses carefully. However, encouraging students to reflect in their answers anything other than their genuine perceptions of their experience (such as making any link between the NSS and league tables or the perceived value of students' degrees) is not acceptable.

It is crucial that survey promotion is neutral and that:

  • Students are targeted equally so that each eligible student is given a chance to express their views on the student experience
  • Students feel free to give honest feedback about their experiences without their responses being influenced by their institution
  • Students must not be asked to complete the survey while a member of staff is overseeing their responses, or be made to feel that their responses are being monitored
  • Students must not be encouraged to reflect in their answers anything other than their genuine perceptions of their experience

Any allegations of inappropriate attempts to influence the outcomes of the NSS are taken extremely seriously by the funders of the survey. This is to ensure that the integrity of this essential part of the Quality Assurance System is maintained.

A document outlining HEFCE's (on behalf of the funding partners) process for handling concerns regarding attempts by institutions to influence results inappropriately is available here.

If you are uncertain about any aspect of these guidelines, please contact the person responsible for the NSS at your institution, or you can email us directly at the NSS helpline and we would be happy to provide further advice or clarification.

The NSS questionnaire as administered by Ipsos MORI should not be used amongst the NSS-eligible cohort within the same academic year in which they can expect to be invited to participate in the survey by Ipsos MORI.

How can I boost the response rate for my subject/course?

There are a number of ways to promote the NSS within your subject/course, including:

  • Lecture shout-outs to final year students
  • Arrange dedicated computer sessions
  • Add a feature about the NSS to Intranet sites/Moodle
  • Discuss the NSS via subject/course social media sites
  • Discuss how to promote the NSS with other departments that are achieving higher response rates

When should I hold dedicated NSS completion sessions?

Dedicated sessions can be held at any time during the survey fieldwork. Students can log onto www.thestudentsurvey.com and select the option to 'Enter the Survey'. To utilise the personal email links sent to institutional email accounts, you could also arrange sessions to coincide with their delivery.

  • Survey week 1: arrange dedicated sessions on Tuesday or Wednesday
  • Survey week 2: arrange dedicated sessions on Thursday or Friday

Can we send email reminders to students?

Sending targeted emails that invite students to complete the survey at www.thestudentsurvey.com can be useful. However, we would recommend against too many reminders as this may have an adverse effect. Please ensure that you coordinate these emails with Ipsos MORI to ensure they do not overlap with our activities. The email content should be signed off by a senior member of staff.

Please liaise with the main NSS contact at your institution to ensure that emails are only being sent to eligible students.

When can we display marketing materials?

It is recommended to display promotional materials around your institution before the launch of the survey. This is to ensure it is visible to students and fresh in their minds before they receive their email invitations. The survey website will remain live until 30 April 2017. Please continue to display the materials until this date.

The survey start date chosen by the institution can be found on the NSS Extranet within the 'My Survey Options' form.

How will NSS data be used in the TEF Year Two?

For more information about how the NSS data will be used in the TEF year two, please click here.

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