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Review of the National Student Survey: next steps

The four UK higher education funding bodies are undertaking a review of the National Student Survey (NSS) as part of a wider review of information on higher education.

In July 2014 we published two major research contributions to this review:

The research did not recommend radical changes to the survey. It suggested some alterations to preserve its strengths and address identified weaknesses, including new questions on student engagement and examining barriers to the inclusion of some students.

Perspectives on the research

During summer 2014, the funding bodies discussed the research with organisations involved in the NSS, including student unions and institutional representatives across the UK. We also took advice from the Higher Education Public Information Steering Group. These views contributed to our response to the research and our plans for the next steps in preparing for a new NSS to begin in 2017.

All those involved in the discussions broadly supported the research recommendations. But feedback opened up areas for further investigation.

The research had, for example, recommended a bank of negatively worded questions, to test whether students’ responses are fully considered. Discussions expressed some concern that this could impair the quality of responses, and so it was suggested we should explore alternative approaches.

Next steps

In view of the broad support for the recommendations, we will:

  • investigate alternative methods for including negatively worded questions to detect whether students have fully considered their responses
  • explore options for allowing students not currently included in the survey to provide feedback on their experiences
  • undertake in-depth cognitive testing of questions to inform the design of a new questionnaire, including the new questions recommended in the research
  • undertake wider testing of a revised questionnaire with a representative sample of students (we will make further details available to institutions by the end of the year)
  • put forward proposals for a new survey for formal consultation
  • consider a further pilot, following consultation before the launch of a new survey in 2017
  • review the optional banks of questions, including considering new questions.

In developing a new survey we will seek to avoid impact on the current NSS.

A summary of our response to each of the research recommendations is available below.

This document was originally published in November 2014. It has been updated to reflect consultation proposals published in October 2015.

For further information, please contact

Timetable for further development of the NSS

October to December 2014

Phase one of cognitive testing

January to April 2015

Wider testing of questionnaire

May to June 2015

HEFCE analysis of wider testing data

May to June 2015

Second phase of cognitive testing

October 2015

Consultation published

February 2016

Outcomes from consultation published

Spring 2016

Potential pilot of final questionnaire

Summer 2016

Awarding of contract for new NSS

January 2017

New survey starts


We have spoken with the following organisations:

  • Mixed Economy Group
  • Higher Education Academy (surveys working group)
  • National Union of Students (student officers)
  • Institutions in Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Scottish institutions and Universities Scotland
  • GuildHE (quality managers)
  • Association of Colleges (South West region)
  • Russell Group (Pro Vice-Chancellors for Learning and Teaching)
  • The Quality Assurance Agency and its Student Advisory Board
  • HEFCE Teaching Quality and Student Experience Strategic Committee
  • UK Higher Education Public Information Steering Group.

Page last updated 1 October 2015