Your views on the NSS: "about as scientifically useful as TripAdvisor"

The NSS does not give an accurate representation of student feeling, according to more than half of university staff responding to a straw poll.

August 13, 2014

According to a Times Higher Education survey of 50 higher education workers, carried out after the results of the 2014 National Student Survey were released yesterday, 56 per cent do not trust the findings of the annual barometer of student feeling.

The 2014 NSS results showed record levels of satisfaction for graduating students in the UK, with campus universities performing particularly well. However, this finding is at odds with many of the comments THE has received from university employees across the UK.

One lecturer at a university in the West of England described the NSS as “about as scientifically useful as TripAdvisor is for travellers”, referring to the review website on which holidaymakers post reviews of hotels and restaurants.

“The construction of the survey is too blunt to record the variables of individual student satisfaction,” the respondent said. “So many other factors can be at play but simplistic readings require less effort so are more attractive in the Key Performance Indicator culture.”

“The entire premise [of the NSS] is fundamentally flawed,” said another university employee, this time from a campus-based institution in southeast England. “Students are expected to rate their course effectively in comparison to every other course out there. Having only studied one university degree (in most cases), this is impossible.”

Another staff member, from a university in London, said they were “yet to meet a student who actually engages with the survey”, adding that “most just seem to complete it because they’re continuously poked and prodded until they do so”, rendering results meaningless.

This theme was picked up by another university staff respondent, who branded the NSS “completely unfit for purpose” because “ students [are] harangued into completing it [and] small courses [are] excluded”, adding that because students complete it on a particular day, results are also affected by “student mood”.

Another pointed out that answers might be skewed because the survey is completed “at a stressful time”. They continued: “The questions can be misleading and students are forced in some cases to complete the questions. It would be more accurate to allow students to feedback in their own voice giving the universities rankings of their own.”

Others, however, were less cynical. One lecturer at a university in the East of England said the record-breaking results showed the “importance that staff and students place on good teaching and learning”, while a Russell Group university employee said the NSS had “helped us focus on how best to deliver teaching and support to students in a way that learns from best practice”.

Ten students also responded to our straw poll, with half saying they trusted the NSS results, and half saying they did not.

One, from an institution that ranked highly in the 2014 NSS results, said: “I’ve watched student satisfaction levels drop this year to lows that we couldn’t have imagined. Morale is bad and students are generally unsatisfied with the resources made available to them.”

However, a London-based student said that their university had “really started to listen to the students”, and was actively working to improve teaching.

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Reader's comments (1)

A few years ago I conducted a study on academic views towards the NSS. This surveyed over 300 staff in twelve institutions. I imagine many of the findings are still applicable today.


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