Q&As for students
- 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 each year since 2005, it is an established survey that produces influential data. It gives students a powerful voice to help shape the future of their course at their university/college. 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 regulated and/or 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 our regulatory responsibilities.
- What is being asked in the survey?
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
You also have the opportunity to provide any positive and/or negative comments on your learning experience as a whole at your university/college. Your comments will be passed on anonymously to your university/college to help them identify where their strengths lie as well as any areas for improvement. Please note that the open-ended questions are optional and there is a maximum word limit of 4,000 characters.
To preserve your anonymity and that of others, please do not 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.
Some universities/colleges have opted to ask their students optional questions appended to the 27 core questions. If you are a student at one such university/college, you will only be asked these additional questions after you have completed the core questionnaire online. Completion of these questions is not obligatory, therefore if you decline to do so, your answers for the core NSS questions will still be submitted. The extra questions should only take a few minutes to complete. The answers to these questions will only be provided to your universities/colleges and will not be made publicly available.
- Why is the NSS conducted?
The NSS is conducted for three main reasons:
- To inform student decisions - it enables prospective students to compare courses at different universities/colleges when deciding what and where to study.
- 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.
- To support public accountability - the survey is also a mechanism for the general public to be provided with information about UK higher education.
- How will the results be used?
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.
- Who benefits from the NSS?
Your feedback provides your university/college with a picture of what the learning experience has been like for students completing their course in 2020.
Universities/colleges and Students' Unions (Associations or Guilds) use the anonymised data internally to identify areas of strength and weakness, to help make changes and bring about enhancements to improve the student experience. More widely, the NSS is a key component of the regulatory landscape in UK higher education and supports public accountability.
Prospective students can use the NSS results which are publicly available on Discover Uni to make informed decisions about where and what to study. This official site allows prospective students to compare information across higher education courses.
- Why should I complete the NSS?
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.
- How do you ensure responses to the NSS are not biased or inappropriately influenced by universities or colleges?
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 encouraged to promote the survey and remind students to complete the NSS, they must not encourage students to reflect in their answers anything other than their genuine perceptions of their experience.
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/media/4c1392d0-dfc2-41ea-a765-4e9bef2588e7/nss-2019-inappropriate-influence-on-survey-results-guide-for-students.pdf
If someone has tried to influence your response inappropriately, contact email@example.com.
- Why am I being asked more than 27 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. 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 subjects undertake practice placements, so their experience of Higher Education is slightly different. Therefore, in addition to the core 27 questions, students studying NHS subjects 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.
- Do all students answer the same questions?
All students will be asked these questions, 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, 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.
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.
- How long does it take to complete the NSS?
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.
- Who is eligible to complete the NSS?
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.
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 2020 will still be surveyed in the current year. Students who were already surveyed in 2019 will not be surveyed in 2020.
To check whether you are eligible for the survey, please click here.
For more detailed eligibility criteria, please click here.
- How do I participate in the NSS?
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 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.
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 regular 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.
- Where did you get my contact details, and how are they stored?
Your contact details have been supplied to Ipsos MORI by your university/college under the OfS's authority on behalf of the other funders. 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 2020.
- Why am I being asked to take part in the NSS when I am not a final year student?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- I completed the survey last year. Why am I being asked to complete it again?
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.
- I have tried to complete the survey online but it does not recognise me as eligible.
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 using the eligibility criteria in our Q&As here, or by using the eligibility checking function here. You can also contact us at: email@example.com.
- Why have I received a reminder to complete the NSS when I have already completed the survey?
If you have received a reminder from Ipsos MORI after completing the survey, there may be three reasons for this:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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: email@example.com.
- Will my responses be confidential?
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 Notice for more details.
- What if I don’t want to complete the NSS?
Participation in the NSS is voluntary so 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 (e.g. telephone) or would like to opt out of all stages, you can do so 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.
- Can I change or withdraw my survey responses?
We do accept additional comments to the open questions. If you would like to make any additional comments, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 2020. For further information, please contact us at email@example.com.
- How can I be sure that my concerns expressed in the survey are acted upon?
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.
- How will NSS data be used in the TEF?
TEF awards are decided by an independent panel of experts made up of academics, students and experts on employment and widening participation in higher education. Their assessments use holistic judgement to weigh the evidence available from data and from a detailed statement from each university or college.
The National Student Survey is one source of the evidence available to them: the data include how many students continue their course from one year to the next, graduate-level employment outcomes, as well as students' views about their experience gathered in the annual NSS.
The TEF takes into account the mix of student characteristics, entry qualifications and subjects at each higher education provider so assessment is based on what a provider should be achieving within this context.
For more information about how the NSS data will be used in the TEF, please see: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/teaching/tef-data/
- Who should I contact if I have a query?
If you have a question about the National Student Survey that has not been answered on this website, then feel free to email either firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or click here.