Gold-watch time for 'simplistic' NSS survey?

November 29, 2012

The National Student Survey should be replaced by a poll asking undergraduates how much they have engaged with their studies and university life, the head of a mission group has said.

Speaking at the sixth annual Enhancing the Student Experience conference in London, Alex Bols, executive director of the 1994 Group, which represents 12 research-intensive universities, said the NSS should be wound up when it comes up for review in 2015 - its 10th anniversary.

Mr Bols said the NSS, which surveyed about 287,000 final-year undergraduates this year, had played a major part in improving elements of the student experience since it was launched in 2005 but was no longer very useful.

“After 10 years the data [will] have shown relatively minor changes in the results year on year,” he told an audience on 22 November.

“It might be time to consider something different to act as a new incentive to nudge students to consider other issues as important and to act as a driver for institutional change.”

He advocated the introduction of a poll similar to the US National Survey of Student Engagement, which asks students to assess how much they have engaged with their course and other opportunities at university.

This poll goes “beyond a simplistic survey of how ‘satisfied’ students have been” and “assesses recognisable factors which…form an overall picture of how well the student has engaged in academic life”, he said.

Mr Bols also addressed the recent loss of the universities of Bath, Surrey and St Andrews from the 1994 Group. Their departures were, he said, an “inevitable consequence of the thinking we’ve been doing to determine where we stand in the new environment”.

In a reference to the four 1994 Group members - the universities of Exeter, Durham, York and Queen Mary, University of London - that left this year to join the Russell Group, he added: “A rush to … join the right ‘club’ may have short-term attractions but it lacks the long-term benefits of groups of institutions coalescing around a shared vision of higher education.”

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