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‌‌The study by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on behalf of the UK higher education funding bodies [Note 2] also confirms that the NSS provides consistent and robust results. 

The analysis reveals a number of interesting insights from the last nine years: 

  • Students have become more satisfied overall.
  • The largest variation in satisfaction scores within each year is seen within subject of study; for example, Creative Art and Design students have been less satisfied over time while Mathematical Sciences students have been more satisfied [Note 3].
  • When other student characteristics are taken into account, Black African students are more satisfied overall when compared with White students, while Black Caribbean students are less satisfied [Note 4].
  • Students who have declared a disability have been less satisfied than those with no known disability [Note 5]. 

There has been a 39 per cent increase in the proportion of students completing the survey online since 2005. The study also shows that the proportion of students who tick the same answer for every question has gradually increased over time, from 1 per cent in 2005 to 5.4 per cent in 2013. However, these increases have had no effect on the trends in student satisfaction over time [Note 6]. 

The NSS data can be explored further using an interactive tool available on the HEFCE web-site. [Note 7]

Review of the NSS

The study findings are published alongside an independent report on the purpose and effectiveness of the NSS [Note 8]. 

The report concludes that the NSS remains a valued, valid and reliable tool, and that its use has extended from its original purpose to inform student choice about the quality and standards of teaching, to a more profound role in supporting quality enhancement. It makes a number of recommendations for developing the survey, including the addition of student engagement questions and the development of a set of criteria against which existing and future questions could be considered. 

Professor Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE Chief Executive, said: 

‘The NSS is an invaluable source of intelligence for universities and colleges. It drives curriculum improvement, and enhances the quality of the learning experience for millions of students. It also plays a key role in helping to inform the choices of prospective students. 

‘The reports we are publishing today confirm the robustness of the NSS, and the value it adds to UK higher education. HEFCE will now work with the other UK funding bodies, universities and colleges, and students, to make refinements for the future.’ 

Professor Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University and Chair of the Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (HEPISG), which has advised on the ongoing development of the NSS, said: 

‘I welcome these reports. They not only provide us with a comprehensive source of data and information about the NSS, but also confirm it as a valuable and robust tool for gathering student feedback and driving institutional change. 

‘HEPISG and the UK funding bodies will now consider the recommendations in the NSS Review. 

‘Any major changes to the NSS will be based on robust piloting and cognitive testing with a view to introducing a revised NSS by 2017.’

Notes

  1. In order to present results that are consistent and comparable the analysis looks at the core population of students that have been part of the survey cohort since 2005: students registered at English, Welsh and Northern Irish higher education institutions who are not NHS-funded.
  2. The four UK higher education funding bodies are: the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland.
  3. Currently, satisfaction levels across all subjects are high. We are investigating whether the differences merit further analysis or action by HEFCE or by institutions.
  4. Building on previous analysis (Differences in degree outcomes: key findings, HEFCE 2014/03), HEFCE will undertake further work on a range of outcomes such as attainment, retention and satisfaction across a range of groups to better understand the issues affecting these groups, taking action where necessary.
  5. The Government has asked HEFCE to review provision and support for disabled students in the higher education sector. We will be doing this over the coming months, working closely with institutions, the NUS, and others.
  6. The act of choosing the same answer to every question is known as acquiescence bias or ‘yea-saying’. In 2005 only 1.0 per cent of respondents were found to be yea-saying; by 2013 this had risen to 5.4 per cent. This is much higher than would be expected even after accounting for the very high levels of satisfaction and strong relationship between the answers to different questions, but the analysis concludes that so far this has not materially affected the overall results.
  7. A full ten-year NSS data set analysis, including the results from 2013-14, will be available in 2015.
  8. NatCen Social Research, the Institute of Education, University of London, and the Institute for Employment Studies, ‘Review of the National Student Survey’. The report was commissioned by the four higher education funding bodies.