I have been involved in a review of the National Student Survey commissioned by the funding councils. The report came out this week.
Here’s a short summary of some of the conclusions that are not always explicit in the report:
1. A campaign to get the NSS dumped in favour of the U.S. National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has failed. The NSS is valued, valid and impressively helpful as a way of enhancing teaching and the student experience. Universities and colleges don’t want to lose it. They don’t want it replaced by a survey that focuses on student engagement rather than on the quality of teaching.
2. The NSS is not a ‘satisfaction’ survey. It was designed as a student evaluation instrument (there is only one question about overall satisfaction).
3. A falsehood has been widely circulated that the NSS is not related to academic achievement or ‘learning gains’. Although the results have not been made public, it is certain that higher scores on the NSS are associated with better degree results, even after controlling for students’ entry qualifications.
4. Any modifications to the NSS will need to be carefully trialled and extensively tested to ensure that changes do not compromise the strengths of the survey and its considerable value to higher education institutions. Minor changes include the potential inclusion of a small number of extra questions about students’ engagement with quality processes and learning, many of which are already available in the optional set of questions.
5. The NSS has probably been the most effective and best value single policy initiative in the area of improving the UK student experience in the last 10 years.