Students in lecture hall some with hands up

FAQs

What is the National Student Survey (NSS)?

The NSS is a high-profile annual census of nearly half a million students across the UK. Conducted annually since 2005, it is an established survey and produces useful data to help universities, colleges, and students’ unions (associations or guilds) identify what they do well, and what needs to be improved. It gives students a powerful voice to help shape the future of their course. It also provides helpful information for prospective students deciding what and where to study.

The survey gathers feedback from eligible students, most of whom are at the end of their studies. They are asked to respond to 27 single choice questions relating to various aspects of their course.

The survey runs across all publicly funded higher education providers in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Additionally, further education colleges in England and Northern Ireland, and Further Education Institutions (FEIs) in Wales with directly funded HE students are eligible to participate.

It is compulsory for universities and colleges to take part in the NSS when:

  • In England, all providers (higher education institutions and further education colleges) registered and regulated by the Office for Students (OfS) will be expected to participate in the NSS as part of their ongoing conditions of registration.
  • In Northern Ireland, NSS participation is a condition of funding as set out in the financial memoranda between universities and the Department for the Economy (Northern Ireland). Further education colleges in Northern Ireland take part in the NSS to meet requirements of the Revised Operating Model for Quality Assurance.
  • In Scotland, participation is a condition of the Scottish Funding Council’s funding for higher education providers.
  • In Wales, all Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW)-regulated, and HEFCW-funded providers are expected to participate in the NSS to ensure that the views of the diverse student body are represented, in line with their statutory responsibility to help safeguard against discrimination and promote equality, and the outcomes inform HEFCW’s regulatory responsibilities.

The NSS is conducted for four main reasons:

  1. To inform student decisions – it enables prospective students to compare courses at different universities and colleges when deciding what and where to study.
  2. To provide information to enhance the student experience – universities and colleges use the results to help improve their courses, facilities, and the student learning experience for current and future students.
  3. To assist with the quality assurance and wider regulatory landscape in UK higher education.
  4. To support public accountability – the survey is also a mechanism for the general public to be provided with information about UK higher education.

Your feedback provides universities and colleges with a picture of what the learning experience has been like for students completing their courses in 2022. Universities, colleges, and students’ unions (associations or guilds) can use the anonymised data to identify what they do well and what needs to be improved, to help bring about changes which will improve the overall student experience. More widely, the survey results provide important information for regulatory bodies about the quality of higher education across the UK.

Data from the NSS is published on the website. Prospective students can use Discover Uni to compare NSS results across different higher education courses to help them make informed choices about where and what to study.

The Office for Students (OfS) publishes results on its website which can be downloaded. But anonymised open comments are not published and are only seen by your university or college.

Please see the ‘Results’ section for more information about publication of results in 2022.

The NSS is run by Ipsos MORI and commissioned by the Office for Students (OfS), on behalf of the UK funding and regulatory bodies – Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), and the Department for Economy Northern Ireland (DfENI).

Type of questions asked

Core questions

The survey asks final year students to provide feedback on their courses. There are 27 core questions, relating to the following aspects of the student experience:

  • Teaching on my course
  • Learning opportunities
  • Assessment and feedback
  • Academic support
  • Organisation and management
  • Learning resources
  • Learning community
  • Student voice
  • Overall Satisfaction

In addition, students studying NHS subject courses may be asked questions about their placements.

Open comments

Students are also given the opportunity to give positive and/or negative comments on their experience as a whole at their university or college. Comments are passed on anonymously to the universities and colleges to help them identify where their strengths lie and also how they can make improvements.

Please note that the open-ended questions are optional and there is a maximum word limit of 4,000 characters. You may also choose to send additional comments by email to Ipsos MORI at thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com.

To preserve your anonymity and that of others, you are asked not to make comments that:

  • could enable you to be identified as an individual;
  • name individuals; or
  • make references that could identify another individual, e.g., a course leader or head of department.

The National Student Survey Questionnaire

Optional Questions

Universities and colleges may choose up to six banks of optional questions and may include up to two additional questions specific to them. They are asked to agree with students’ unions their choice of optional banks of questions for inclusion.

These questions are appended to the 27 core questions. You will only be asked these additional questions after you have completed the core questionnaire online. You are not obliged to complete these questions, and if you decline to do so, your answers for the core NSS questions will still be submitted. The answers to these questions will only be provided to your university or college and will not be made public.

The NSS questionnaire can be found here.

Universities and colleges may choose up to six banks of optional questions and may include up to two additional questions specific to their students. They are asked to agree with students’ unions their choice of optional banks of questions for inclusion. The additional questions are only asked if you are completing the survey online and should take just a few minutes to complete. You will be asked if you want to continue with these additional questions when you have completed the core NSS questions. If you choose not to complete the additional questions, your responses to the main survey will still be submitted.

Students studying NHS subject courses undertake practice placements, so their experience of higher education is slightly different. In addition to the core 27 questions, students studying NHS subject courses will be asked additional questions about their experience on their practice placements.

All students will be asked the same 27 core questions; however, some universities or colleges may include additional questions and students on NHS subject courses also get additional questions.

We are also conducting a pilot survey and you may be invited to take part once you have completed the NSS. Taking part is voluntary.

Responding to the NSS [for students]

Only you and your fellow students know what it was like studying on your course and so the NSS has been designed to capture students’ views on the areas that matter to you. Your university or college will use your feedback to make real changes to the student experience.

Your response to the NSS will also help provide useful information to prospective students about your course. The results are made available to the public through the website. Prospective students can use Discover Uni to compare NSS results across different higher education courses to help them make informed choices about where and what to study.

To maintain integrity of the NSS data universities and colleges are guided on the promotion of the NSS, including what is considered inappropriate influence and how to avoid it when encouraging student participation. The NSS should reflect what you think about your course and so it is important that your university or college doesn’t do anything that could influence your response. While universities and colleges may decide to promote the survey and remind students to complete the NSS, they must not encourage students to reflect anything other than their genuine views of their experience in their answers.

There is a student guide on inappropriate influence to help and support students if they feel they are being influenced in how to respond to the survey. This guide details what may constitute inappropriate influence and the types of promotion universities and colleges are, or are not, allowed to undertake. It also tells you how to report concerns, the processes that are in place to investigate allegations of inappropriate influence and what happens if there is a breach of guidance. If you think that your university or college is inappropriately influencing students’ responses to the NSS, email NSSallegations@officeforstudents.org.uk.

It only takes about ten minutes to complete the core NSS questions.

Your university or college may choose to include some questions in addition to the core NSS questions, but you do not have to respond to these if you prefer not to.

Ipsos will contact you initially by email to invite you to take part. This email will contain a personalised link to the survey, and it will take you to the survey where you will be asked to verify your personal information to make sure you are eligible to take part in the survey. If your personal information is not accurate, we may need to contact you to validate your response.  You can also take part in the survey directly through the survey website.

If you are eligible, your responses will be submitted to the survey. Once the survey questions have been completed, you will not be contacted again or receive any further reminders from Ipsos regarding the NSS.

We will initially attempt to contact you by email, and if we have no response, we will then contact you by telephone. The survey is linked to a live database of eligible students, which is updated on a daily basis so that students who have already completed the NSS will not receive further invitations. If you have completed the survey but still receive an invitation or a reminder, it may be due to our inability to match the details you supplied, to the ones supplied by your university/college. There may also be some overlap between when you sent your response and when we re-contacted you.

If you cannot access the survey, we would advise that you check the validation information that you have entered. You can check that you are eligible, by reading the Eligibility & Participation section below, the Eligibility page, or by using the eligibility checking function here. You can also contact us at: thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com.

If you have received a reminder from Ipsos MORI after completing the survey, there may be three reasons for this:

  1. We have not received your completed questionnaire. It may be that you did not fully complete and submit your response. In this case, we ask that you please fully complete the survey again.
  2. We could not match your details to our database (which contains all students who are eligible to take part) to validate your response. We need to ensure that the response we received is from you to validate it. Please complete the survey again and provide accurate identification information to allow us to validate your response.
  3. There was an overlap between when you submitted your response and the updating of our database. We update our database daily throughout the survey period to limit this occurrence, but some respondents sometimes slip through. Please contact thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com to check if we have logged your completed response.

Once you have completed the NSS and your response has been validated, you should receive no further communication from Ipsos MORI.

Please note that you may receive a reminder from your university or college about the survey, even if you have completed the survey. This might happen because, to maintain anonymity, we do not give out the details of students that have or have not completed the survey. This means your university or college cannot target their emails to students who have not yet responded.

If you continue to receive reminders from Ipsos MORI and you believe there has been an error, please contact Ipsos MORI at: thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com.

Eligibility & Participation

All students studying on courses leading to undergraduate credits or qualifications which are longer than one-year full-time study or its part time equivalent (such as bachelor’s degrees, foundation degrees, higher education diplomas) will be surveyed in their final year of study.

Students on more flexible part-time programmes (whose final year cannot be easily predicted) will normally be surveyed during their fourth year of study. Students who have withdrawn from study during their final year will be included in the survey as their feedback is equally valuable. Unless otherwise removed, students who have repeated a year or have changed their course arrangements but were originally expected to graduate in 2022 will still be surveyed in the current year. Students who were already surveyed in 2021 will not be surveyed in 2022.

To check whether you are eligible for the survey, please click here.

Ipsos will contact all eligible students by email or telephone.

We need to verify you are eligible to take part. If your personal information is not accurate, we may re-contact you to validate your response. If you are eligible, your responses will be submitted to the survey. Once the survey questions have been completed, you will not be contacted again or receive any further reminders from Ipsos regarding the NSS 2022.

We will initially attempt to contact you by email, and if we have no response, we will then contact you by telephone. The survey is linked to a live database of eligible students, which is updated on a daily basis so that students who have already completed the NSS will not receive further invitations. If you have completed the survey but still receive an invitation or a reminder, it may be due to our inability to match the details you supplied, to the ones supplied by your university/college. There may also be some overlap between when you sent your response and when we re-contacted you.

Some students who are not be in their final year may still be eligible to complete the NSS. If you have been contacted by Ipsos MORI to take part in the survey, you are eligible, and your feedback is valued.

To check your eligibility please email thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com.

If you have been contacted by Ipsos to complete the survey this year, you are eligible, and your feedback is valued. All students contacted this year are deemed eligible regardless of their situation in the previous year. You may have been surveyed last year in error, or you may have been surveyed about another course.

Responses to the survey are strictly confidential, and all responses are anonymised before they are shared with the university/college to ensure individuals cannot be identified.

Please speak to the main NSS contact at your university or college who will be able to check the list of eligible students and get in touch with us through the appropriate channels.

Do not email any individual information to the NSS inbox; individual data must only be transferred through the password-protected NSS Extranet via the university or college NSS contact.

Results

NSS results can be downloaded from the Office for Students (OfS) website, however any comments you make are anonymous and are not published, can only be viewed by your university or college.

Only data that conforms to NSS publication thresholds (at least 10 student responses and a 50 per cent overall response rate) will be made public.  If no data is made available for a particular course on which students were surveyed, this means that the data did not meet this publication threshold.  A lack of publishable data does not reflect on the quality of a course or a university or college.

Detailed results will be supplied to individual universities and colleges through a dissemination portal provided by Texuna Technologies Ltd. These results are used by universities and colleges to identify what is going well, where improvements can be made and to enhance the overall learning experience for current and future students.

The NSS results are also published at course level on the website which is designed to help prospective students make the important decision of where and what to study in higher education.

The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) is an exercise introduced by the government in England in 2016 with, to date, voluntary participation for providers in the UK.

The initial TEF exercises took place between 2017 and 2019 and assessed:

  • Excellence in teaching at universities and colleges and
  • How well universities and colleges ensured excellent outcomes for their students in terms of graduate-level employment or further study.

TEF awards were decided by a panel of academics, students and other experts using a range of evidence, including official datasets and information submitted by the provider. This included NSS data, which was used to understand students’ views of their learning experience. The last TEF exercise took place in 2019 so since then NSS data has not been used for TEF purposes.

The Office for Students (OfS) is developing proposals for a new TEF framework, including the future use of NSS data in the exercise, and is due to consult on these in autumn 2021, at the same time as consulting on regulation of student outcomes.

The OfS currently aims to publish new TEF awards in early 2023. As existing TEF awards were made several years ago, they may not provide an up-to-date reflection of teaching quality, so the OfS has advised universities and colleges to stop advertising their awards.

You can find more information about the TEF on the OfS website.

The NSS is a predominantly quantitative study, and the results are analysed at aggregated level. Your comments are anonymised and named individuals removed. The data are not intended to address respondents’ requests at a personal, individual level. If you have concerns about your own or others’ health and wellbeing, you should raise this with your welfare services at your university or college, as this will provide the quickest response.

Inappropriate influence and survey promotion

By ‘inappropriate influence’ it can mean:

‘Any activity which may encourage students to reflect anything other than their true opinion of their experiences during their course in their NSS responses’.

This sort of ‘inappropriate influence’ can happen through:

  • email
  • face-to-face sessions and lectures
  • posters, materials and activities
  • student-to-student communications
  • communications from student organisations, such as your students’ union.

For the NSS to be useful as many eligible students as possible need to take part. This means that it’s important to promote the survey.

Ipsos run a national publicity campaign. Universities and colleges are also encouraged to run their own campaigns with their students and staff.

They may choose to do this in different ways:

  • promoting on social media
  • placing posters around campus
  • emails to eligible students to invite them to complete the survey
  • engaging departments and teaching staff to give NSS information through lecture shout-outs
  • engaging student bodies and representatives to give NSS information
  • use of prize draws, incentives or competitions to encourage completion.

Universities and colleges can remind students to complete the NSS and to reflect on what you think about your course. However, encouraging students to respond in a way which does not reflect their genuine perceptions of their experience is not acceptable. Your university or college should not influence your response.

The kinds of promotional activities that universities and colleges can do:

  • Run a neutral campaign that focuses solely on boosting responses in the NSS.
  • Provide examples of where previous NSS feedback has resulted in specific improvements at the university or college.
  • Encourage eligible students to participate.
  • Allow students to give their feedback regardless of their opinion.
  • Be wary of tone and use of language when discussing the NSS – keep it neutral.
  • Target promotion in departments or courses with low response rates.
  • Inform students that they are free to interpret the survey questions how they wish – questions for the NSS are self-explanatory.
  • Hold voluntary NSS completion sessions.
  • Ensure students have total privacy when completing the survey.
  • Use incentives or a prize draw to promote the survey.
  • Ensure that all staff are aware of the guidelines.

The kinds of promotional activity that universities and colleges cannot do:

  • Embed NSS marketing activity in broader promotional activities, for example ‘Pride’ and ‘I Love’ campaigns – there must be a clear division.
  • Combine the NSS with other surveys being undertaken at the university or college.
  • Advise students on how to interpret the survey questions or response scale – you should interpret them in your own way.
  • Advise or ask students to respond in a certain way.
  • Make entering a prize draw conditional on completing the NSS.
  • Link the NSS to league tables or the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).
  • Job prospects and the perceived value of students’ degrees – tell you that negative responses to the NSS could make your degree look bad to future employers.
  • Indicate that the survey is compulsory.
  • Make it a requirement or pressure students to attend dedicated NSS sessions.
  • Take students through the survey on an individual basis or do the survey with you – you should be given privacy to respond honestly.
  • Complete the survey on behalf of the student.

Any allegations of inappropriate attempts to influence the outcomes of the NSS are considered by the UK funding and regulatory bodies to ensure that the integrity of the NSS data is maintained.

If you think that your university or college is inappropriately influencing students’ responses to the NSS, email NSSallegations@officeforstudents.org.uk. The Office for Students (OfS) is responsible for managing the process of investigating concerns that students have been inappropriately influenced in completing the NSS.

Concerns may be raised at any time, but it’s helpful if they are brought to our attention as early as possible, particularly whilst the survey is active from January to April, so that timely action can be taken.

All concerns with sufficient detail will be considered using the procedures for investigating allegations of inappropriate influence on survey results. This document can be found on the OfS website under Promotion of the NSS.

If an investigation found that promotional activities had resulted inappropriate influence, whether intentional or unintentional, the integrity of the NSS data could be called into question and the Office for Students (OfS) in partnership with the UK funding and regulatory bodies may not be able to publish NSS results for the affected courses at the university or college that year.

This would also mean that no NSS results would it be available to use in marketing activities, learning enhancement work or inclusion on websites with course comparison information such as Discover Uni, and the OfS’ website.

Privacy & Data Protection

Your contact details have been supplied to Ipsos MORI by your university or college under the Office for Students’ (OfS) authority and on behalf of the rest of the UK funding and regulatory bodies. Ipsos MORI have been commissioned to conduct the NSS and will only use students’ details strictly for the purpose of this survey. All students’ details will be removed from Ipsos MORI’s systems when the project has been completed in Summer 2022.

Ipsos MORI is a member of the Market Research Society and all details and responses will be handled in full accordance with data protection legislation.

Your responses to the survey are strictly confidential, and all responses are anonymised before they are made available to your university or college. All responses remain confidential excluding exceptional circumstances where there is evidence the respondent or others are at risk of harm.

Information is used in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018. Please read the full Privacy Statement for more details.

Participation in the NSS is voluntary. If you do not wish to take part, you can simply opt out of the survey.

At any stage that Ipsos MORI contacts you directly (6 January– 30 April), you can state that you do not wish to take part and you will not be contacted again by Ipsos MORI. Please note, you must actively opt out if you do not wish to be surveyed – not responding to the email or telephone interview does not constitute an opt-out.

If you have a preferred method of contact, you can also choose to opt out of specific stages of the survey (e.g. the online survey) by clicking on the opt-out link or you can opt out of all stages by clicking here.

We need to be sure of the identity of the student opting out. We therefore ask for the same identification information as for those responding to the survey.

We do accept additional comments to the open questions. If you would like to make any additional comments, please contact us at thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com. Please note that to append additional comments to your submitted survey responses, we will ask you for some verification information.

You are also entitled to request that part or all of your record of the survey/research be deleted. However due to publication timetables, any requests to change responses should be made by 30 April 2022. For further information, please contact us at thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com.

Promoting the NSS [for universities and colleges only]

Universities and colleges can remind students to complete the NSS and to consider their responses carefully. However, encouraging students to respond in a way which does not reflect their genuine perceptions of their experience is not acceptable. Staff must not explicitly instruct students on how to complete the survey, such as explaining the meanings of questions or the NSS scale. In particular, the NSS questionnaire as administered by Ipsos should not be used among eligible students in the same academic year in which they will be invited to participate in the survey by Ipsos. No links should be made between the NSS responses and league tables, or the perceived value of students’ degrees.

It is crucial that survey promotion is neutral and that:

  • All students are targeted equally so that each eligible student is given a chance to express their views on their experience;
  • Students must feel free to give their honest feedback about their experiences without their  responses being influenced by their university or college;
  • Students must not be asked to complete the survey while a member of staff is taking them through it or overseeing their responses; students should not be made to feel that their responses are being monitored;
  • Students must not be forced to complete the survey, or made to feel that there will be consequences if they do not complete it; and
  • Students must not be encouraged or asked to respond in a way which does not reflect their experience, e.g. they cannot be told to not use the neutral ‘Neither agree nor disagree’ response.

Any allegations of inappropriate attempts to influence the outcomes of the NSS are taken extremely seriously by the UK funding and regulatory bodies. This is to ensure that the integrity of the NSS data is maintained. Further guidance is also available in the NSS Good Practice Guide.

The Office for Students (OfS) is responsible for managing the process for concerns that students have been inappropriately influenced in their completion of the NSS on behalf of the UK funding and regulatory bodies. For more on information on good practice in survey promotion and how to avoid inappropriate influence see the NSS good practice guide. For more information on the procedures for investigating allegations of inappropriate influence on survey results see https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/student-information-and-data/national-student-survey-nss/promotion-of-the-nss/

If you are uncertain about any aspect of these guidelines, please contact the person responsible for the NSS at your university or college, or you can email us directly at the NSS helpline and we would be happy to provide further advice or clarification.

University and college staff are often best placed to communicate the benefits and importance of the survey. They can speak directly with students about how the results will be used by those looking to progress to higher education and how they are used to improve the student experience at the university/college more generally. It is crucial that university and college staff stress objectivity in speaking about the NSS because of the way the results will be used by prospective students, universities/colleges, SUs, and other stakeholders.

Universities/colleges may wish to use their NSS results in marketing materials, to promote particular courses or the provider as a whole. This is permitted, but there are several restrictions depending on the type and quality of the data being shared.

The publication thresholds (a minimum 50 per cent response rate and at least 10 students) must be adhered to at all levels. Any results below this threshold must not be published.

NSS results from published data may be used in marketing materials and attributed to the NSS, providing the above-mentioned publication thresholds are met.

NSS results from unpublished data such as optional bank questions or provider-specific questions, may also be used in marketing materials, but these may not be attributed to the NSS.  However, free text comments should not be used in publicly available materials in order to preserve the anonymity of students. The above-mentioned publication thresholds must be met for the cohort whose results are being published.

The results of the NSS are subject to the privacy statement, which states that anonymised open-text comments are only shared with the relevant university/college or UK funding and regulatory body. Universities and colleges may not quote open-text comments in marketing materials.

However, open-text comments from the core NSS questionnaire may be paraphrased in marketing materials, as long as the text does not identify any individuals, and the comments are not attributed to the NSS.

Open-text comments from the optional bank questions or the provider-specific questions may not be used in any form.

In order for results to be published, a threshold of both 10 respondents and a 50 per cent response rate must be met overall and by subject. NSS data remains an important tool for helping prospective students make decisions about where and what to study. The higher the response rate, the greater the likelihood of course-level data being made publicly available to these students.

There are a number of ways to promote the NSS within your subject/course, including:

  • Lecture shout-outs to final-year students
  • Arrange voluntary computer sessions
  • Add a feature about the NSS to Intranet sites/Moodle
  • Discuss the NSS via subject/course social media sites
  • Send targeted email communications to eligible students
  • Offer internal prize draws to eligible students

Dedicated sessions can be held at any time during the survey fieldwork. Students can log onto www.thestudentsurvey.com and select the option to ‘Enter the Survey’. These sessions must be voluntary for students to attend. You could also arrange sessions to coincide with the delivery of their personalised email invitations:

  • Survey week 1: arrange dedicated sessions on Friday or the following Monday
  • Survey week 2: arrange dedicated sessions on Tuesday or Wednesday
  • Survey week 3: arrange dedicated sessions on Monday

Sending targeted emails that invite students to complete the survey at www.thestudentsurvey.com can be useful. However, we would recommend against too many reminders as this may have an adverse effect. Please ensure that you coordinate these emails with the Ipsos Fieldwork Schedule to ensure they do not overlap with our activities. The email content should be signed off by a senior member of staff. All Communications and/or provider marketing materials must not attempt to sway the opinion of students in any way (please refer to the NSS Good Practice Guide).

Please liaise with the Main NSS contacts at your university or college to ensure that emails are only being sent to eligible students.

It is recommended for universities and colleges in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to display promotional materials around your university or college before the launch of the survey on 6 January 2022 (this is optional for universities and colleges in England). This is to ensure it is visible to students and fresh in their minds before they receive their email invitations. The survey website will remain live until midnight on 30 April 2022. Please continue to display the materials until this date.

Contact

If you have a question about the National Student Survey that has not been answered on this website, then feel free to email either  thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com, nss@officeforstudents.org.uk or click here for Ipsos MORI’s contact page.