“An asset to be treated with care”
The report on Enhancing and Developing the National Student Survey came out today, 3 August 2010. It was commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and written by a team from Centre for Higher Education Studies at the Institute of Education. I was the project leader. *
The NSS has been one of the success stories of the quality assurance system for higher education.
It has generated a groundswell of growing confidence. Institutional representatives like its transparency, consistency and reliability. They are using it imaginatively. Student representatives are strongly in favour of the NSS, and have put its results to practical use.
As David Watson (one of my colleagues on the review team) has said, this is an asset to be treated with care.
The NSS has been actively deployed to improve quality in universities. This was originally intended to be one of its minor functions, but it’s become a dominant one. The people we interviewed agreed that the most positive practical outcomes are improvements to the student learning experience by individual higher education institutions, often with the support of their students’ unions.
The report recommends, among other things:
- Making even more use of the results of the NSS to enhance the student experience
- Encouraging universities to report the changes they’ve made to the student experience because of NSS results
- Developing a version of the NSS for postgraduate students
- Not adding more questions to the NSS
- Not replacing the NSS with other types of survey, such as the North American National Survey of Student Engagement
- Not using it to make inappropriate comparisons, such as league tables of universities (the differences are usually too small to mean anything — not that this will have any effect on people who believe in meaningless comparisons, of course)
- Reviewing the whole thing more fully in 2015
The members of the project team were Denise Batchelor, Alison Peacock, Paul Temple, David Watson and me.
I have to say that I was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive attitude shown to the NSS by the university managers, academics and students whom we interviewed. Owing to their efforts, it really has made a difference to the quality of the student learning experience.
And that must be a good thing.
*Note: As you’ll read about elsewhere on this site, the NSS is based on the Australian Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) — which I developed in the 1990s. However, I wasn’t involved in the construction of the NSS and I have no special commitment to it. The reason for the positive reporting here is that people in our interviews said very good things about the NSS.