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 areas of success and areas for enhancement. It gives students a powerful voice to help shape the future of their course at their university/college. It also provides helpful information for prospective students deciding what and where to study.

The survey gathers feedback from eligible students who are mainly at the end of their studies. They are asked to respond to 27 single choice questions relating to various aspects of their course. For the 2021 survey, the OfS and the UK funding and regulatory bodies have chosen to include a new set of questions in the NSS questionnaire, to ask students about specific aspects of their experience during the pandemic. Students can choose whether to answer these questions and submit their feedback on this topic after they have completed the core questionnaire. They are also given the opportunity to make open-ended positive and negative comments on their overall student experience at their university/college.

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.

Participation in the survey is compulsory for universities and colleges as follows:

  • In England, all providers (higher education institutions and further education colleges) registered and regulated by the 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 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 three main reasons:

  1. To inform student decisions – it enables prospective students to compare courses at different universities/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 support public accountability – the survey is also a mechanism for the general public to be provided with information about UK higher education.

Feedback provides universities/colleges with a picture of what the learning experience has been like for students completing their courses in 2021. Universities/colleges and Students’ Unions (Associations or Guilds) can use the anonymised data internally to identify areas of strength and weakness, to help effect change, and to bring about enhancements intended to improve the overall student experience. More widely, the survey results inform the higher education quality assurance system to generate information about teaching quality.

Data from the NSS are published on the Discover Uni website. This official site allows comparisons across higher education courses and universities/colleges to help prospective students make informed choices about where and what to study.

The OfS publishes overall results on its website which can be downloaded, however anonymised open comments data is not published and is only seen by your university/college.

Please see the ‘Results’ section for more information about publication of results in 2021.

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 students in their final years to provide feedback on their courses in a nationally recognised format. 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 will be asked questions about their placements. If a student is on a degree apprenticeship or a higher apprenticeship at levels 6 or 7, they may be asked some questions about their training programme.

For the 2021 survey, there are a new set of questions in the NSS questionnaire, to ask students about specific aspects of their experience during the pandemic. Students can choose whether to answer these questions and submit their feedback on this topic after they have completed the core questionnaire.

Open comments
Students are also given the opportunity to give positive and/or negative comments on their experience as a whole at their university/college. If comments are provided, these will be passed on anonymously to the university/college 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. Students may also choose to send additional comments by email to Ipsos MORI at thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com.

To preserve their anonymity and that of others, students are asked not to make comments that:

  • could enable them 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/colleges may choose up to six banks of optional questions and may include up to two additional questions specific to the provider. Providers 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. Students will only be asked these additional questions after they have completed the core questionnaire online. Completion of these questions is not obligatory, and if a student declines to do so, their answers for the core NSS questions will still be submitted. The answers to these questions will only be provided to the student’s university/college and will not be made publicly available.

 

Universities/colleges may choose up to six banks of optional questions and may include up to two additional questions specific to their students. Providers 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 online. 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. Therefore, in addition to the core 27 questions, students studying NHS subject courses will be asked additional questions about their experience on their practice placements.

If you are a student on a degree apprenticeship or a higher apprenticeship at levels 6 or 7 you may be asked some questions about your training programme.

For the 2021 survey, the OfS and the UK funding and regulatory bodies felt it important to ask students about specific aspects of their experience during the pandemic. Therefore, in addition to the core 27 questions students can choose whether to answer these questions and submit their feedback on this topic after they have completed the core questionnaire.

The NSS consists of 27 core questions and two open-response questions (the NSS questionnaire can be found here). If you are studying an NHS subject course, you will also be asked questions about your placement.  If you are a student on a degree apprenticeship or a higher apprenticeship at levels 6 or 7 you may be asked some questions about your training programme.

For the 2021 survey, there are a new set of questions in the NSS questionnaire, to ask students about specific aspects of their experience during the pandemic. Students can choose whether to answer these questions and submit their feedback on this topic after they have completed the core questionnaire.

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

Responding to the NSS [for students]

Only you and your fellow students have the experience of studying on your course. The NSS has been designed to capture students’ views on the areas that matter to them.

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 Discover Uni website which allows prospective students to compare data about UK higher education courses.

To maintain integrity of the NSS data we need to ensure that students who complete the survey have not been influenced by their university/college, or any other parties, to respond in a way that does not reflect their true opinion.

The NSS is a unique opportunity for students to provide open and honest feedback about their course. While universities/colleges are expected to promote the survey and remind students to complete the NSS, they must not encourage students to reflect anything other than their genuine perceptions of their experience in their answers.

The 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 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 someone has tried to influence your response inappropriately contact nssallegations@officeforstudents.org.uk

 

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

Your university/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. For the 2021 survey, there are a new set of questions in the NSS questionnaire, to ask students about specific aspects of their experience during the pandemic. Students can choose whether to answer these questions.

Ipsos MORI will contact all eligible students by email or telephone.

Verification will take place to ensure you are eligible to take part in the survey. If their personal information is not accurate, we may re-contact them to validate their 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 MORI regarding the NSS 2021.

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. Please also check that you are eligible to complete the survey, by reading the Eligibility & Participation section below, or 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 in addition to reminders from Ipsos MORI, you may receive a reminder from your university/college. This is because they are not supplied with the details of those that have or have not completed the survey and therefore cannot target their emails to students who have not yet responded. We do not provide this information to universities/colleges to help maintain student anonymity.

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

The NSS is run across all publicly funded higher education providers in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, as well as private/alternative providers in England with specific course designation for new students. Further education colleges in England and Northern Ireland, Further Education Institutions (FEIs) in Wales with directly funded HE students are eligible to participate.

Participation in the survey is compulsory for universities and colleges as follows:

  • In England, all providers (higher education providers and further education colleges) registered and regulated by the OfSwill 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 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.

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 2021 will still be surveyed in the current year. Students who were already surveyed in 2020 will not be surveyed in 2021.

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

Ipsos MORI will contact all eligible students by email or telephone.

Verification will take place to ensure you are eligible to take part in the survey. If their personal information is not accurate, we may re-contact them to validate their 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 MORI regarding the NSS 2021.

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.

There are a few exceptions in which some students who may not be in their final year are eligible to complete the NSS. Therefore, 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 MORI 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 or if you were part of the NSS Pilot 2020.

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/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/college’s NSS contact.

Results

The NSS results are made available through the Discover Uni website which is designed to help prospective students make the important decision of where and what to study in higher education. These results are also used by universities/colleges themselves to identify what is going well, where improvements can be made and to enhance the overall learning experience for current and future students. NSS results can be downloaded from the OfS’s website, however anonymised open comments data is not published and can only be viewed by your university/college.

Please note, in September 2020, the OfS announced a two-stage internal review of the NSS following a request by the universities minister in England. The OfS will consider the outcome of the NSS review to ensure the 2021 NSS results in England are aligned to any new direction of travel resulting from the review. A decision regarding the publication of results for providers in England will be taken in early 2021 following the outcome of the first phase of the review of the NSS. For providers in other nations, further detailed information and a timetable for publication of the data will follow in April 2021.

The TEF was introduced by the government in England in 2016 to promote excellence in teaching and outcomes beyond the minimum quality requirements that all higher education providers need to meet.

TEF ratings take account of the extent to which each higher education provider:

a. achieves excellence in teaching

b. ensures excellent outcomes for their undergraduate students in terms of graduate-level employment or further study.

Current 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 as a measure of students’ satisfaction with their learning experience.

To date, participation for providers in England has been voluntary.  The Office for Students (OfS) is now responsible for the TEF and is developing proposals for a new TEF framework, which will be part of the regulatory arrangements for English higher education providers. It expects to consult on these in Spring 2021. In developing its proposals, the OfS will consider recommendations from an independent review of the TEF and the government’s response to this, as well as the outcomes of the OfS’s Consultation on regulating quality and standards in higher education (November 2020).

Providers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also able to participate in the TEF on a voluntary basis, although the outcomes are not used in the respective quality assurance arrangements of each nation.

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

In order for results to be made publicly available, 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.

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

Inappropriate Influence

Universities/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 MORI 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 MORI. 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:

  • Students are targeted equally so that each eligible student is given a chance to express their views on their experience;
  • Students feel free to give honest feedback about their experiences without their responses being influenced by their university/college;
  • Students must not be asked to complete the survey while a member of staff is taking them through it or overseeing their responses; they 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.

A document outlining the OfS’s (on behalf of the UK funding and regulatory bodies) process for handling concerns regarding attempts by university/college to inappropriately influence results is available here. Further guidance is also available in the NSS good practice guide.

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

To maintain integrity of the NSS data we need to ensure that students who complete the survey have not been influenced by their university/college, or any other parties, to respond in a way that does not reflect their true opinion.

The NSS is a unique opportunity for students to provide open and honest feedback about their course. While universities/colleges are expected to promote the survey and remind students to complete the NSS, they must not encourage students to reflect anything other than their genuine perceptions of their experience in their answers.

The 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 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 someone has tried to influence your response inappropriately contact nssallegations@officeforstudents.org.uk

 

Privacy & Data Protection

Your contact details have been supplied to Ipsos MORI by your university/college under the OfS’s authority on behalf of the other 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 2021.

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/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, therefore 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. You will then not be contacted again by Ipsos MORI. However, 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 here, 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.

Respondents are also entitled to request that part or all of their record of the survey/research be deleted. However due to publication timetables, any requests to change responses should be made by 30 April 2021. For further information, please contact us at thestudentsurvey@ipsos.com.

Promoting the NSS [for universities and colleges only]

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. Therefore, universities/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.

University/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/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. Find out more about inappropriate influence here.

In order for results to be made publicly available, 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 MORI 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/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/college before the launch of the survey on 6 January 2021 (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 2021. 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.