National Student Survey review suggests postgraduate questionnaire

Funding councils also propose new questions on student engagement

October 1, 2015
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A series of changes to the National Student Survey that have been proposed by the UK’s higher education funding councils include the suggestion that a parallel questionnaire could be developed for postgraduates.

The NSS currently asks only undergraduates about their teaching, learning and student experience, and the development of a postgraduate version was rejected as recently as 2013 after students expressed limited interest in the provision of quantitative data.

But a review conducted by the funding councils, chaired by Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, says that this should be reconsidered in light of funding changes. A loan scheme for master’s study will be introduced in 2016-17.

“Our view is that it is now timely to revisit the information needs of postgraduate students, and specifically whether they should have an opportunity to provide feedback on their study through a national survey, for which results might be published to inform future students,” the report says.

The review also recommends a number of changes to the NSS itself, suggesting nine new questions covering whether students felt challenged by their course, whether learners’ feedback is acted upon, and opportunities for collaborative learning with other undergraduates.

Removal of questions about personal development is recommended, but the review stops short of supporting the introduction of negatively worded questions. This change was proposed to combat the phenomenon of “yea-saying”, in which survey respondents give the same response for every question, but a pilot project found that students felt negatively worded questions were confusing.

Professor Beer said the changes would bring the NSS “up to date”.

“Information about higher education is of central importance in driving and monitoring improvements in learning and teaching, as well as helping students make choices about future study,” she said. “It is therefore vital that information continues to be relevant and robust.”

The review also gives guidance on the information about courses that universities should publish on their websites. It suggests that this could include the time commitment expected from students, the amount and type of contact with staff, and details of additional costs such as field trips.

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Reader's comments (1)

The NSS is a very valuable tool for individual universities, providing feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of their degree programmes - and my university certainly pays very careful attention to this feedback. The problem is that by publishing the data for all institutions, the NSS has become a tool for ranking universities/degree programmes. To ensure a good score, too much effort is put into "the student experience", often at the expense of educational rigour. As a result, challenging but essential course material can be toned down for fear of harming said "student experience" and thereby the university's rank in the league tables. This perhaps would not matter if our student, and the UK itself, were not having to compete in a global educational, industrial and financial market place.

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