NSS 2021 to go ahead in England despite major review

But universities will not be required to promote the survey to students  

September 23, 2020
Source: iStock

The UK’s National Student Survey (NSS) will still go ahead largely unchanged next year despite a “radical, root-and-branch” review of the exercise ordered by the Westminster government.

However, universities in England will not be required to promote uptake of the survey internally and publication of the results may also differ, the country’s higher education regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), said.

The OfS set out the next steps for the NSS in a statement responding to the government’s surprise announcement earlier this month that it wanted a major overhaul of the survey.

In a paper on cutting red tape in the sector, ministers said the NSS had “exerted a downwards pressure on standards”, could be gamed by institutions and did not correlate well with “other, more robust, measures of quality”.

In its statement, the OfS said its review would be split into two stages: the first would report later this year and address the government’s main concerns, while the second would look “more widely at the role of the NSS, including which questions should be asked to support regulation and student information across all four countries of the UK”.

It said the review would “hear the views of students and their representatives, university and college leaders, academics and employers, as well as studying different ways to understand students’ perspectives on their higher education experience”.

The terms of reference, also included in the statement, almost exactly mirror a list of requirements set out in the government’s paper and include exploring “the unintended consequences of the NSS for provider behaviour and how these could be prevented, including whether the NSS drives the lowering of academic standards and grade inflation”.

In terms of next year’s NSS, the OfS said the contract for its delivery had “already been awarded" and there was not enough time to “test and pilot any changes to the NSS that might result from the review”.

It also said that “the perspectives of students continue to be required to inform” the OfS’ regulatory work. “This is particularly the case next year given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”

However, the statement added that “given the significance of the review, the board agreed on a number of measures to amend the 2021 NSS”.

“First, any decision on what to publish from the NSS and at what level should await the outcome of the review to ensure that the 2021 published results were aligned with the new direction of travel resulting from the review.

“It also agreed that the burden on providers should be reduced in the 2021 NSS, by no longer requiring them to promote the survey internally to their students.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said: “The NSS has played an important role in hearing the voice of students for 15 years, with over 300,000 students responding each year.

“It is therefore crucial that it is fit for purpose for the future – and that it supports rather than hinders improvements in quality and standards for the benefit of students.”

There have been three major reviews of the NSS since it started in 2005, the largest of which resulted in a number of changes that came in just three years ago.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

new
"In a paper on cutting red tape in the sector, ministers said the NSS had “exerted a downwards pressure on standards”, could be gamed by institutions and did not correlate well with “other, more robust, measures of quality”." In this matter at least, the govt ministers are absolutely correct. People making a case for NSS should provide robust evidence for its validity - I seriously doubt they can besides making unsubstantiated claims.
new
Dump the NSS - complete waste of public money. Keeps pen-pushers with minimum talent in employment.

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