Consultation opens on keeping the NSS ‘fit for purpose’

Among proposed changes to the National Student Survey are new questions relating to freedom of expression and mental wellbeing

A consultation opens today (28 July) on proposed changes to the National Student Survey (NSS), in a bid to ensure it remains fit for purpose.

Nearly half a million final year students across the UK take part in the Office for Students’ (OfS) survey every year, offering honest feedback on their courses and place of study.

Introduced in 2005, its comprehensive and anonymous nature has made it a key component of the quality assurance and wider regulatory landscape in UK HE.

There are, however, issues that have grown in prominence in university life which remain under-explored in the survey’s current format.

Thus, the proposal that questions on freedom of expression and mental wellbeing be added to the NSS from 2023.

This and other suggestions follow a two-year process to review the survey, including a pilot questionnaire which ran in January and February.

The NSS is a vital tool that informs regulation and providers’ decision-making – this review will ensure it continues to stand the test of time – Conor Ryan, OfS

“As the nature of learning and teaching changes, so too does the NSS,” said Conor Ryan, chair of the UK Student Information Group and director of external relations at the OfS.

“Our proposed changes will help identify trends and provide a consistent measure of students’ academic experience.”

The OfS is also proposing to drop the survey’s usage of the standard five-point ‘agree/disagree’ Likert scale, and instead move to asking direct questions.

In England, the question asking students to rate ‘overall satisfaction’ may also be dropped.

“The OfS takes the view that continued use of the summative question detracts from the importance of understanding individual aspects of the quality of students’ academic experience reflected in individual questions and question banks,” says the consultation.

In related news: NSS 2022 results demonstrate ‘signs of post-pandemic recovery’

While the regulator and funding bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wish to retain the summative measure, its wording may be amended.

“We encourage students and providers to get involved in the consultation process, to ensure the questions we ask remain meaningful and reflect the most important aspects of higher education,” added Ryan.

“The NSS is a vital tool that informs regulation and providers’ decision-making. This review will ensure it continues to stand the test of time.”

Schools and FE colleges, employers, third sector organisations, policy bodies, higher education data and information organisations, and others with an interest in the survey, are also invited to submit their thoughts.

The consultation can be completed here and will close on 1 September 2022.

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