Keenly awaited by both students and academics across the UK, this year’s National Student Survey (NSS) results were released on Thursday, 10th August, at 9:30 am.
Students looking to enter higher education are equipped or overwhelmed with a wealth of information, depending on your point of view. For young people hoping to study beyond school, the choice can be dazzling. Selecting the right course with the right facilities in the right place with thousands of courses and hundreds of institutions to choose from is bewildering.
Just how do you narrow down the search? Well, NSS results are a good place to start. The Guardian University Guide uses three of its metrics: course satisfaction, teaching satisfaction, and feedback satisfaction.
And students aren’t alone in their anticipation. Higher education institutions, eager to see how they’ve done, also wait with bated breath. The National Student Survey (NSS) provides invaluable insight into how they have done and what they can do to improve in the future to benefit present students and attract students in the future.
Understanding the National Student Survey (NSS) and its importance
Run by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the Office for Students, the UK-wide survey of final-year undergraduates gathers feedback on the quality of teaching, assessment, academic support, and other aspects of the student experience.
Designed to take just 10 minutes, the annual anonymous survey contains 27 questions. It’s worth noting that universities can add questions of their own. They may wish to assess whether new initiatives or policy changes have proven effective, or flag up certain issues in their institutions.
5 million students have completed the survey since its launch in 2005. About 7 in 10 students took part in this year’s survey in about 400 higher education institutions across the UK. We think that’s pretty impressive.
The National Student Survey matters. High NSS scores can help universities attract new students and improve their rankings in university league tables such as the Guardian’s. Universities who rank highly proudly cite NSS results on their websites.
But moving the dial on key indicators and boosting NSS results can be a challenge.
Let’s look at where universities can focus their efforts.
Student voice: create a feedback culture
The NSS looks at students’ overall satisfaction at the end of their studies but, to improve results, encourage student engagement and feedback throughout their time at university.
Instil a feedback culture. Prioritise student voice from the outset. Ask for student input on a range of issues relevant to their everyday lives, from facilities and resources to workload and course modules. This can be achieved through a variety of methods: regular surveys, focus groups, and student representation on committees.
Encouraging student engagement and feedback will increase their sense of ownership and investment in their education.
Show you’re listening to feedback
Students express overall satisfaction with the quality of teaching, assessment, academic support, and suchlike when they see their university or institution is committed to ongoing improvement.
To that end, share the results of surveys. Take action when possible. And if you can’t, it’s important that you communicate why. Institutions can’t act on every suggestion, but transparency and shining a light on decision-making processes can help.
If first-year students flag up problems and see their concerns have been heard and acted upon, at least in some way, this will impact how they approach the NSS survey in their final year.
Foster a positive learning environment
Creating a positive learning environment is the key to improving NSS results. And this is best achieved by promoting a culture of respect, inclusivity, and collaboration.
Encourage students to work together and support each other. Provide opportunities for them to engage in extracurricular activities and events.
The onboarding process is essential. Offer robust academic support from the get-go. Ensure that teaching staff are approachable and supportive, and that they provide regular feedback and guidance to students.
We realise this is especially true of retention in STEM subjects. We’ve written about this before.
Of course, teacher time is limited. Graide is all about making the most of AI to speed up marking, assessment, and feedback, increasing student satisfaction with “assessment and feedback” in the National Student Survey.
And freeing up academics’ time for more one-to-one feedback, when the human touch is required, further boosts student wellbeing and satisfaction. Interestingly, we notice that Student Voice, who run the NSS, uses AI to collate and categorise student comments, along with benchmarking, demographic and historical analysis.
It increasingly makes good common sense to delegate the boring stuff to artificial intelligence, freeing up humans to do what they do best: empathy, intuition, and creative problem-solving, all of which are integral to teaching and learning.
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