The National Student Survey- is there any point in it for you?

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By Jason Simpkins on 14.5.2023

The National Student Survey- is there any point in it for you?

Every spring, thousands of students at Kent will receive by email what appears to be a golden opportunity. It is the National Student Survey (NSS), by reputation a 22-question promise that the university is listening to what students have to say. After all, the University is required by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to distribute the survey to those undergraduate students reaching the end of their degree course, it takes minimal time to complete and if you do not fill it out (or opt out), it will be emailed to you up to eight times or until you find time to complete it. It may seem on one hand to be the occasion for which you have waited three or more years and an insufferable annoyance until you fill it out: but you may want to pause and consider why you should take the survey; how will it benefit you and the people you know?

To recall the oft-stated stance of present Kent Union education sabbatical and future Union president Tom Christian, “the NSS is the only survey the university listens to.” With respect to Mr. Christian, one can only hope that he is absolutely wrong. One reason is that, as you take the survey, you may experience a slight case of déjà vu; by the time you receive the NSS you will have had the opportunity to fill out no less than ten module evaluation forms—you know the ones where you attempt to put the line between the brackets, unsure what the difference is between a 3 and a 4. It won’t feel too familiar though, after all the NSS asks you 22 questions about your entire course – module evaluation forms ask 38 questions about your experiences in a single module with less than three months – not three years – to recall in detail. These evaluation forms are divisible by subject, module, seminar leader and seminar group, and the statistics (and any comments you provide) from evaluation forms are directed to your department, lecturer and seminar leader. They are and should be a valuable resource for your instructors which the NSS cannot begin to replace.

But what makes the NSS “more” important is that it is marketable. It is fantastic that Kent was ranked 10th in overall satisfaction (the final question) on the NSS last year—but look at the numbers: the average rating for over 100 institutions spans from 3.5 to 4.5 (out of 5). As such, the difference in ranking between universities lies only across a few people. In the event of a tie, unrelated criteria, most prominently the number of individuals surveyed, dictates rank. So, in fact, if your goal is to deride the university, just taking the survey is more apt to benefit the university. This is the reason behind the extreme pressure on students to take the survey and Kent Union’s recent expenditures to this end.

But chances are that you are at least reasonably satisfied with your course—enjoyed some part or other enough to justify three years of your life (if you didn’t, you may want to consider more severe action than taking a survey). Yet, there tend to be small issues which are continually brought up. For example, a lot of recent complaints have been directed at the library and its (lack of) resources. The NSS addresses the library with only one question. Is this enough to even identify problems? Similarly, the NSS also refers to all central/IT services (i.e. email, website, networking, Web CT) with a single inquiry. Subsequently, even a chiefly negative response to a single question on the NSS such as library quality will be largely unnoticeable by potential students without close scrutiny.

As you fill out the NSS (or not), ask yourself ‘do I really think that the university is unaware of its faults?’ And consider whose opinions are not even being asked: postgraduate students, students who were so frustrated with the university that they failed or dropped out, overseas exchange students (who can compare their home university with Kent for improved results), not to mention the remaining two-thirds of the undergraduate population who have to wait their turn. It also doesn’t ask the opinion of those alumni, out a year or more, who are finding the true value of their university experience as they compare knowledge and skills with hundreds of other recent graduates.

So to return to my original question of how taking the survey will benefit you, quite simply, it won’t. Take it to do the university a favour if one is owed, but why accept a multiple choice survey meant to apply across subjects and universities when you can express the full nature of problems and take part in their solution right now? Why not ignore the National Student Survey? It only confirms what the university already knows, supersedes direct protests about procedures and facilities, ignores some 80% of the students at the university and, ultimately, can only benefit a university which is considered lacking in professional assessments of its programmes. It will not be until Kent (among other institutions) lifts the veil of the NSS and forefronts the student voice that quality of, as well as satisfaction with, resources and scholarship can be expected to improve.



Comments

  • The University of Warwick’s Union, which equals Kent Union in size and influence, also pressed for a boycott of a survey.

    Furthermore, THES and other external sources will nevertheless rank Kent against other universities based on objective data. Without the NSS, Kent may have to focus on improving area other than survey participation and “student satisfaction”

    Another quite neglected “survey” of kinds is the RAE/REF.

    I agree retention and recruitment are key to maintaining the university financially and in reputation, but the NSS does little to help students and will not prevent dissatified students from leaving.

    By Jason Simpkins on 19.5.2023

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  • A point of Information Zain; Cambridge and Oxford Students’ Unions are small token organisations, with no where near the power or influence of Kent Union. The Universities only endorse them because they are legally obliged to. The fact is, the University do respect the results of the NSS more than any other survey because it is the only one that benchmarks them against other institutions and has huge effects on recruitment and retention rates.

    By Achike Ofodile on 16.5.2023

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  • I think it’s worth mentioning that Cambridge and Oxford have boycotted the National Student Survey- so the respected universities have to listen to what their student unions say more, who are supposed to be representing the students anyway.

    By Zain Sardar on 14.5.2023

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