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Action is required from all participating providers by Monday 27 November 2017

Dear Head of Provider

The National Student Survey 2018

1. This letter announces arrangements for the 2018 National Student Survey (NSS), and the action required from all participating providers by Monday 27 November 2017. This includes:

  • providing up to date institutional contact details
  • checking the sample list of students to be included in the survey (the ‘target list’) and providing students’ contact details.

2. The 2018 survey will use the same questionnaire design as 2017, which included the introduction of revised wording for some questions and new student engagement questions. It will also include new optional bank questions, in addition to those included in 2017.  The main questionnaire is attached as Annex A.

3. Ipsos MORI will continue to run the survey on behalf of the funding bodies, and offer support to providers in managing and promoting the survey.

4. Detailed guidance relating to the 2018 NSS and the action requested from all participating providers is in the annexes, which can be downloaded below. This is provided in Annex B for higher education institutions (HEIs) and alternative providers, and Annexes C and D for further education colleges (FECs).

5. As was the case in 2017, alternative providers in England are required as a condition of their specific course designation to participate in the NSS (see the Government’s guidance published in July 2017 at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/specific-course-designation-alternative-higher-education-providers). This requirement covers all NSS eligible courses at a provider, and not just those designated for student support, and it will apply to the regulation of these providers in 2017-18 and 2018-19, which precedes the introduction of the Office for Students’ regulatory framework from 2019-20.

6. HEFCE will continue to deliver NSS on behalf of the four UK funding bodies until April 2018, when HEFCE’s responsibilities for NSS and the HEFCE staff working on it will transfer to the Office for Students. We will take care to ensure that the transition from HEFCE to the Office for Students has no adverse impact on the successful operation of the NSS in 2018.

Actions for all providers

7. All participating providers are asked to review and update, if necessary, their relevant NSS institutional contact details. The information should be supplied to Ipsos MORI no later than Monday 27 November 2017 using the ‘My Details’ form, available on the Ipsos MORI NSS extranet (www.ipsos-mori.com/nss/extranet). This is a password-protected site, and Ipsos MORI will send login details to the nominated main and secondary NSS contacts at the end of October.

8. All providers should populate their 2018 NSS sample templates, provided by Ipsos MORI, with the requested contact details for students on their target list (this is a list of all students eligible for 2018 NSS based on the 2016-17 student data submitted). Details should be supplied to Ipsos MORI by Monday 27 November 2017 via the‘Upload Sample Data’ section of the Ipsos MORI NSS extranet.

9. Instructions on how to supply this information are included in the NSS 2018 ‘Guidance for institutions and students’ unions’, which was issued to institutional contacts on 25 October 2017 and is available on the Ipsos MORI NSS extranet. The guidance includes information regarding survey administration, appropriate promotion of the survey, and key responsibilities and dates[1].

NSS 2018

10. The 2018 survey questionnaire remains the same as that used in 2017 and will continue to be administered across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It will run to a similar timetable to the 2017 survey, with fieldwork taking place between January and April 2018, and results expected to be published in August 2018. Data will be supplied at a detailed level to providers through a dissemination site. Results will be published on the website of the Office for Students and, in September 2018, on the Unistats website. In line with previous practice, we expect that the Office for Students will provide a detailed timetable for publication in April 2018.

11. Ipsos MORI is responsible for administering the survey, returning data to the funding bodies and offering support to providers, including through resources to help promote the survey. This includes facilitating a centrally managed incentive scheme on behalf of providers to encourage students to take part in the survey.

12. Ipsos MORI will liaise directly with NSS contacts at participating providers on how the 2018 NSS will be run. This will include selecting optional questions, incentive schemes and marketing materials. As in previous years, providers will be invited to select one of five starting weeks for their survey. There will be no communication with students outside of the timing agreed with individual providers.

13. In England and Northern Ireland only, the survey costs for HEIs and FECs will be covered by the relevant governments through HEFCE and the Department for the Economy (Northern Ireland). All providers in Scotland and Wales, as well as alternative providers in England, will pay directly for the administration of the survey. All providers who pay directly will shortly be contacted with further details on this. The Scottish Funding Council, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and Health Education England also contribute to the costs of administering the survey.

14. While the survey is administered by Ipsos MORI, working to HEFCE and the other UK funding bodies, the active support of participating providers is crucial to ensuring the data is high quality, particularly in delivering high response rates.

15. We encourage all providers and students’ unions to draw on the resources available and to contact Ipsos MORI or HEFCE if they require additional support.

Optional banks

16. For the 2018 survey, the existing optional banks will be supplemented with new banks of questions, in line with a recommendation in the review of student information consultation (www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/roiconsult/). These include redeveloped questions on personal development, as well as questions about employability, enterprise and entrepreneurship, and wellbeing. Further information is provided in the NSS set-up guidance published by Ipsos MORI.

17. As agreed through the review, we expect providers to agree their choice of optional bank questions with their student representative body (students’ union, association or guild). Further information about this is again provided in the guidance from Ipsos MORI.

Intentions after Graduation Survey (IAGS)

18. We have reviewed and updated the Intentions after Graduation Survey, which we will continue to run as a follow-on survey to the NSS. The IAGS provides valuable information about student progression, including postgraduate study (more information about trends can be found at the following link: www.hefce.ac.uk/analysis/iags2016/). The costs of the IAGS will be covered by the funding bodies. On completing the NSS, students completing first degree programmes will be invited to take part in a separate ‘click-through’ survey asking them about their intentions after graduation. This will be offered to online respondents only.

Degree apprenticeships

19. Students who are on degree apprenticeships leading to a higher education (HE) award will automatically be included in the NSS if they meet the standard eligibility criteria, but it is also a condition of funding by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) for apprentices to be surveyed at multiple points via the FE Choices survey (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/fe-choices-learner-satisfaction-survey-2016-to-2017).

20. In England and Northern Ireland only, the 2018 NSS survey will pilot a set of additional questions for final year degree apprenticeship students designed to address those elements of the ESFA survey which are not currently addressed in the existing NSS. These pilot questions will be offered to online respondents only and positioned after the main survey and optional banks, but before IAGS. The pilot data will be treated as research data to inform future approaches and will not be published at institutional level.

Student Information Advisory Group (SIAG)

21. The work of the NSS is overseen by the UK Student Information Advisory Group (SIAG), which is chaired by Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading. This group provides advice on both NSS and the wider provision of student information. Further details are available at: www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/roiconsult/sg/.

22. We are currently in the process of evaluating NSS 2017 to ascertain how the new survey has worked in practice and to pick up on any emergent issues, either with the survey itself or the implementation process. We will discuss this evaluative work with the SIAG, with a view to determining whether any further revisions should be made to the survey in the future, including if any additional support and guidance is required for participating students or HE providers.

23. Finally, on behalf of the funding bodies, I would like to thank you for your continued active engagement with the National Student Survey. Your support has been crucial to the success of the survey to date. We look forward to working with you to ensure the survey continues to support student choice and a high-quality learning experience for all students.

Yours sincerely

Professor Madeleine Atkins

Chief Executive



[1] Ipsos Mori published a first set of guidance on 25 October 2017. A further set of guidance will be published in early November. This will include information on optional banks. 

Date: 25 October 2017

Ref: Circular letter 39/2017

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Heads of further education colleges in Northern Ireland Heads of institutions in Scotland Heads of participating alternative providers of higher education

Of interest to those
responsible for:

The National Student Survey, Quality assurance and quality enhancement, The student experience, Planning

Enquiries should be directed to:

Rob Denny, tel 0117 931 7078, email r.denny@hefce.ac.uk