Q&As for students
- 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 each year since 2005, it is an established survey that produces influential data. It gives students a powerful voice to help shape the future of their course at their institution. 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. Further Education Colleges (FECs) in England and Northern Ireland, and Further Education Institutions (FEIs) in Wales with directly funded Higher Education students are eligible to participate.
The survey gathers feedback from eligible students who are mainly at the end of their course. They are asked to respond to 27 questions relating to various aspects of their learning experience. In addition to these core questions, they have the opportunity to make open-ended positive and negative comments on their overall student experience at their institution.
- Why is the NSS conducted?
The NSS is conducted for three main reasons:
- To inform student decisions - it enables prospective students to compare courses at different institutions when deciding what and where to study.
- To provide information to enhance the student experience - universities and colleges use the results to help improve their courses and facilities for current and future students.
- To support quality assurance and accountability - the survey provides information as part of the quality assurance system and contributes to the public accountability of higher education.
- How will the results be used?
The NSS results are made available through the Unistats website which is designed to help prospective students make the important decision of where and what to study in higher education. These results are also used by institutions themselves to identify what is going well, where improvements can be made and to enhance the overall learning experience for current and future students. NSS results can be downloaded from HEFCE's website, however open comments data is not published and can only be viewed by your institution.
The results of the NSS, which includes both the statistical data and students' comments may be used to undertake research by HEFCE or researchers with a licence/contractual agreement with HEFCE. Students' anonymity is protected in any materials that are published.
- Who benefits from the NSS?
Your feedback provides your institution with a vision of what the learning experience has been like for students completing their course in 2018. Institutions and Students' Unions (Association or Guild) use the anonymised data internally to identify areas of strength and weakness, to help effect change, and bring about enhancements to improve the student experience. More widely, the survey results inform the higher education quality assurance system to generate information about the teaching quality at your institution.
Prospective students can use the NSS results which are publicly available on Unistats to make informed decisions about where and what to study. This official site allows prospective students to compare information across higher education courses.
HEFCE also publish the overall results which can be downloaded from their website. Open comments data is not published and can only be seen by your institution. Student anonymity is always protected in the results data.
- Why should I complete the NSS?
Only you and your fellow students have the experience of studying on your course. The NSS has been designed to capture students' views on the areas that matter to them. For example, in 2005, at a national level 'assessment and feedback' scores were relatively low. As a direct result of students sharing their views through the NSS, action has been taken by universities and colleges to address this and scores in this area have improved significantly over time.
Your response to the NSS will also help provide useful information to prospective students about your course at your institution. The results are made available to the public through the Unistats website which allows prospective students to compare data about UK higher education courses.
- What is being asked in the survey?
The survey asks students in their final years to provide feedback on their courses in a nationally recognised format. There are 27 core questions, relating to the following aspects of the student experience:
- Teaching on my course
- Learning opportunities
- Assessment and feedback
- Academic support
- Organisation and management
- Learning resources
- Learning community
- Student voice
- Overall Satisfaction
Open text comments
You also have the opportunity to provide any positive and/or negative comments on your learning experience as a whole at your institution. Your comments will be passed on anonymously to your institution to help them identify where their strengths lie as well as any areas for improvement. Comments may also be used by HEFCE or researchers with a license/contractual arrangement with HEFCE to undertake research. Published materials will protect student anonymity. Please note that the open-ended questions are optional and there is a maximum word limit of 4,000 characters.
To preserve your anonymity and that of others, please do not make comments that:
- could enable you to be identified as an individual;
- name individuals; or
- make references that could identify another individual e.g. a course leader or head of department.
Some institutions have opted to ask their students optional questions appended to the 27 core questions. If you are a student at one such institution you will only be asked these additional questions after you have completed the core questionnaire online. Completion of these questions is not obligatory, therefore if you decline to do so, your answers for the core NSS questions will still be submitted. The extra questions should only take a few minutes to complete. The answers to these questions will only be provided to your institution and will not be made publicly available.
Intentions after Graduation Survey
You may also be asked if you 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 you can decline the invitation. Your answers for the NSS will still be submitted regardless of whether you complete the IAGS.
- Why should I respond honestly?
The NSS is a unique opportunity for students to provide open and honest feedback about their course in an anonymous way. While institutions are encouraged to promote the survey and remind students to complete the NSS, they must not encourage students to reflect in their answers anything other than their genuine perceptions of their experience.
Any inappropriate attempts to influence the outcomes of the NSS are taken extremely seriously by the funders of the survey. If you have any concerns, please email email@example.com.
- Why am I being asked more than 27 questions?
Some institutions may have chosen to ask their students some optional questions relevant to specific areas of their learning experience. The additional questions are only asked if you are completing the survey online and should take just a few minutes to complete. You will be asked if you want to continue with these additional questions when you have completed the core NSS questions online. If you choose not to complete the additional questions, your responses to the main survey will still be submitted.
Students studying NHS subjects undertake practice placements, so their experience of Higher Education is slightly different. Therefore, in addition to the core 27 questions, students studying NHS subjects will be asked additional questions about their experience on their practice placements. You can view the National Student Survey Questionnaire (NHS) here.
The funding bodies in both England and Northern Ireland are piloting a set of questions on Degree Apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships at levels 6 and 7. If you are a student on a degree apprenticeship or a higher apprenticeship at levels 6 or 7 in England or Northern Ireland you may be asked some questions about your training programme. Degree Apprenticeship provision is growing and it is important that the funders begin to capture the voice of the apprentice. The pilot questions will help the funding bodies learn how information on Degree Apprenticeship provision might be collected and recorded, with the aim of improving arrangements in the longer term.
After you have completed the NSS, you may also be asked if you wish to take part in the Intentions after Graduation Survey (IAGS). Please note that this survey is separate from the NSS. The IAGS asks final year students undertaking an undergraduate qualification about their plans after graduating from their current course which takes a few minutes to complete. Completion of this short survey is not obligatory and you can decline the invitation to complete it. Your answers for the NSS will still be submitted regardless of whether you complete the IAGS.
- Do all students answer the same questions?
The NSS consists of 27 core questions and two open-response questions (the National Student Survey Questionnaire can be found here). All students will be asked these questions. If you are studying an NHS-funded course, you will also be asked questions about your placement. Your institution may choose to include a few optional questions as well, which may be specific to your institution.
- How long does it take to complete the NSS?
It only takes about ten minutes to complete the 27 core NSS questions.
Your institution may choose to include some questions in addition to the core NSS questions, but you do not have to respond to these if you prefer not to.
- Who is eligible to complete the NSS?
The NSS is run 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. Further Education Colleges (FECs) in England and Northern Ireland, 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 which are longer than 1 year full-time study or its part time equivalent (such as bachelor's degrees, foundation degrees, higher education diplomas) will be surveyed in their final year of study.
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. Unless otherwise removed, students who have repeated a year or have changed their course arrangements, but were originally expected to graduate in 2018, will still be surveyed in the current year. Students who were already surveyed in 2017 will not be surveyed in 2018.
To check whether you are eligible for the survey, please click here.
For more detailed eligibility criteria, please click here.
- How do I participate in the NSS?
Ipsos MORI will contact all eligible students by email or telephone.
You will be asked for some personal data in order to verify that you are eligible to take part in the survey. Please provide all the information requested, as your responses will only be submitted if all of your personal information is entered accurately. Once you have completed the survey, you will not be contacted again or receive further reminders from Ipsos MORI. If your personal information is not accurate we may re-contact you to validate your response.
We will initially attempt to contact you by email, and if we have no response, we will then contact you by telephone. The survey is linked to a live database of eligible students, which is updated on a regular basis so that students who have already completed the NSS will not receive further invitations. If you have completed the survey but still receive an invitation or a reminder, it may be due to our inability to match the details you supplied, to the ones supplied by your institution. There may also be some overlap between when you sent your response and when we re-contacted you.
- Where did you get my contact details, and how are they stored?
Students' contact details have been supplied to Ipsos MORI by their institution under HEFCE's authority on behalf of the other funders. Ipsos MORI have been commissioned to conduct the NSS and will only use students' details strictly for the purpose of this survey. All students' details will be removed from Ipsos MORI's computer systems when the project has been completed in May 2018.
Ipsos MORI is a member of the Market Research Society and all details and responses will be handled in full accordance with data protection legislation.
Please read the full Privacy Statement for more details.
- Why am I being asked to take part in the NSS when I am not a final year student?
There are a few exceptions in which some students who may not be in their final year are eligible to complete the NSS. Therefore, if you have been contacted by Ipsos MORI to take part in the survey, you are eligible and your feedback is valued.
To check your eligibility please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- I completed the survey last year. Why am I being asked to complete it again?
If you have been contacted by Ipsos MORI to complete the survey this year, you are eligible and your feedback is valued. All students contacted this year are deemed eligible regardless of their situation in the previous year. You may have been surveyed last year in error, or you may have been surveyed about another course. Please click here to enter the survey.
- I have tried to complete the survey online but it does not recognise me as eligible.
If you cannot access the survey, we would advise that you check the validation information that you have entered. Please also check that you are eligible to complete the survey, by using the eligibility criteria in our Q&As here, or by using the eligibility checking function here. You can also contact us at email@example.com.
- Why have I received a reminder to complete the NSS when I have already completed the survey?
If you have received a reminder from Ipsos MORI after completing the survey, there may be three reasons for this:
- We have not received your completed questionnaire. It may be that you did not fully complete and submit your response. In this case, we ask that you please fully complete the survey again.
- We could not match your details to our database (which contains all students who are eligible to take part) to validate your response. We need to ensure that the response we received is from you in order to validate it. Please complete the survey again and provide accurate identification information to allow us to validate your response.
- There was an overlap between when you submitted your response and the updating of our database. We update our database on a daily basis throughout the survey period to limit this occurrence, but some respondents sometimes slip through. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to check if we have logged your completed response.
Once you have completed the NSS and your response has been validated, you should receive no further communication from Ipsos MORI.
Please note that in addition to reminders from Ipsos MORI, you may receive a reminder from your institution. This is because they are not supplied with the details of those that have or have not completed the survey and therefore cannot target their emails to students who have not yet responded. We do not provide this information to institutions to help maintain student anonymity.
If you continue to receive reminders and you believe there has been an error, please contact Ipsos MORI at: email@example.com.
- Will my responses be confidential?
Your responses to the survey are strictly confidential, and all responses are anonymised before they are made available your institution. All responses remain confidential excluding exceptional circumstances where there is evidence the respondent or others are at risk of harm. 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. All our research is conducted in compliance with the Data Protection Act. Find out more about our work.
- What if I don’t want to complete the NSS?
Participation in the NSS is voluntary so if you do not wish to take part, you can simply opt-out of the survey.
At any stage that Ipsos MORI contacts you directly you can state that you do not wish to take part. You will then not be contacted again by Ipsos MORI. However, you must actively opt-out if you do not wish to be surveyed – not responding to the email or telephone interview does not constitute an opt-out. If you have a preferred method of contact, you can also choose to opt-out of specific stages of the survey (e.g. the online survey) by clicking here, or you can opt-out of all stages by clicking here.
We need to be sure of the identity of the student opting-out. We therefore ask for the same identification information as for those responding to the survey.
- Can I change or withdraw my survey responses?
We do accept additional comments to the open questions. If you would like to make any additional comments, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that to append additional comments to your submitted survey responses, we will ask you for some verification information.
Respondents are also entitled to request part or all of their record of the survey/research be deleted. Any requests to change responses should be made by 30 April 2018. For further information, please contact us at email@example.com.
- How can I be sure that my concerns expressed in the survey are acted upon?
The NSS is a predominantly quantitative study and the results are analysed in the summer, at aggregated level. Student comments are anonymised and named individuals removed. The data are not intended to address respondents' requests at a personal, individual level. If students have concerns about their own or others' health and wellbeing they should raise these with their welfare services at their institution, as this will provide the quickest response.
- 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.
- Who should I contact if I have a query?