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HEFCE closed at the end of March 2018. The information on this website is historical and is no longer maintained.

Many of HEFCE's functions will be continued by the Office for Students, the new regulator of higher education in England, and Research England, the new council within UK Research and Innovation.

The HEFCE domain - - will continue to function until September 2018. At this point we will close the site entirely and all its information will only be available from the National Web Archive.


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Executive summary

1. This report presents the findings from the first stage of an evaluation of the implementation of the new National Student Survey (NSS) in 2017. The second stage will be undertaken after the 2018 NSS results are published, to capture the full cycle of institutions’ implementation activity.

2. The evaluation has been undertaken by HEFCE on behalf of the UK higher education funding bodies.  It is an evaluation of the implementation of the NSS in 2017, rather than an evaluation of the main NSS questionnaire as a survey instrument.

3. This first stage evaluation comprised the analysis of two online surveys: a student questionnaire completed by 84,435 students between January and April following the completion of the main NSS in 2017; and an institutional questionnaire, administered by HEFCE in June and July 2017, completed by 113 higher education providers.

Key points

4. The collective response from both questionnaires has been generally positive. Students responded positively to many of the usability questions and the majority found the questions easy to understand. The majority of institutional staff were satisfied with Ipsos MORI’s running of the survey.

5. However, several responses to quantitative and qualitative open response questions identify a number of areas that may benefit from further consideration and investigation.

Student questionnaire main findings

6. Among student respondents, 31 per cent did not consider the NSS to be a strong and recognisable brand.

7. A total of 40 per cent were unaware of a promotional campaign running at their institution before completing the NSS main survey, and an analysis of open responses resulted in several recommendations for improving the usability of the NSS online.

8. Of staff respondents, 38 per cent reported a preference for using their own campaign and marketing materials or a mixture of their own and those that are available. These materials are available, from Ipsos MORI, without cost to the institution.

Institutional staff questionnaire main findings

9. Some 65 per cent agreed that ‘there are no further changes that I would want to see made to the NSS’ while 19 per cent reported that further changes were necessary and 17 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement. However, qualitative comments indicate a perception among some respondents that the NSS questions have been drafted with traditional institutions and traditional programmes in mind, and need further updating to ensure the NSS meets the needs of smaller providers, alternative providers, further education colleges and specialist institutions.

10. In view of the fact that previous piloting and testing indicated the questions were applicable across the diversity of programmes, further work may be needed in the second stage of the institutional evaluation to understand the issues raised, particularly for alternative providers and further education colleges.

Next steps

11. The findings of the present evaluation indicate that students and institutions are broadly positive about the implementation of the survey in 2017.

12. The areas identified as needing further investigation, including how the effectiveness of marketing and communications can be improved, will be considered by the UK funding bodies in time to feed into arrangements for the NSS 2019.

13. The findings will inform the second stage of the evaluation to be undertaken in autumn 2018.

Action required

14. This report is for information only.

Date: 28 March 2018

Ref: 2018/06

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

Of interest to those
responsible for:

National Student Survey, The Student Experience, Planning, Quality assurance and quality

Enquiries should be directed to: