The results for the 2020 National Student Survey (NSS) have been published today; they mark the penultimate release before the Office for Students and devolved funding bodies launch a root and branch review of the annual poll.
This year’s survey was carried out between 6 January and 30 April, meaning responses submitted in the final five weeks of the process followed the UK’s national lockdown on 23 March.
“Through this turbulent period, along with UK funders and regulatory bodies, we decided that it was important to keep the survey open,” said Richard Puttock, director of data, foresight and analysis at the Office for Students (OfS). Despite the pandemic, Mr Puttock said the OfS detected no evidence the lockdown had strongly impacted the survey’s results.
As in previous years, the 2020 survey reveals that students across the UK are more likely to praise the quality of teaching and learning but criticise course organisation, assessment feedback and the value of the student voice.
Nine in ten students (89%) at UK universities agreed staff are good at explaining things and eight in ten (84%) agreed the staff made the subject intellectually stimulating. Although 86% of students thought staff were easy to contact, far fewer students (74%) agreed assessment feedback was timely and fair. Students in England were less likely than those in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to describe assessment feedback as helpful (72% versus 77%). In total, seven in 10 (67%) agreed their course was well-organised.
A smaller proportion of students (50%) thought it was clear how students’ feedback had been acted on and just over half (57%) agreed their students’ union, association or guild effectively represented students’ academic interests. Just 71% felt part of a community of staff and students. Disabled students, black students and those with mixed ethnicities were statistically less likely to feel part of a learning community than other groups of students.
Overall satisfaction levels were highest in Wales and Northern Ireland (85%) and lowest in England (83%).
The review of the NSS, announced by the universities minister Michelle Donelan this autumn, will conclude the first of two stages before Christmas 2020. The 2021 NSS will proceed as normal because “it is not possible to test and pilot any changes to the NSS that might result from the review, to ensure its integrity and statistical validity, in time to capture the experience of students during 2020-21”, the OfS said. Next year’s results will not be published until after the investigation is completed, to ensure the data released to the public next year is “aligned with the new direction of travel resulting from the review”, the regulator continued.