The National Student Survey Results Portal

Guidelines 2019

This guidance details the principles providers should follow when using any additional (unpublished) data submitted by their own students in the 2005-2019 National Student Surveys (NSS). This document also covers data from the additional bank of questions and provider-specific questions, which some providers also opt to use. The NSS data dissemination portal makes a range of data available. Some of this data is not published on the Office for Students (OfS) or Unistats (to be replaced by Discover Uni from 12 September 2019) websites. This includes:

  • Anonymised student comments.
  • Data from the additional bank of questions, which some providers also opted to use.
  • Data from the provider-specific questions, which some providers also opted to use.
  • Data that does not make the ‘reliability threshold’ used to publish NSS results. Prior to NSS 2015, the ‘reliability threshold’ was at least a 50 percent response rate and at least 23 responses. From NSS 2015, the ‘reliability threshold’ is at least a 50 percent response rate and at least 10 responses.

Explain the allowed usage of data published on the NSS data dissemination portal, which is not available on the Unistats site.

Offer information on where to go for guidance on responding to requests for such information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA).

The use of NSS results publicly in marketing and publicity materials is subject to several restrictions, depending on the type of data.

Please note that the publication thresholds (a minimum 50% response rate and at least 10 students) must be adhered to at all levels. Any results below this threshold may not be published.

Published NSS data – results of the core NSS questions (Q1 through Q27) at course-level:

  • These results can be used in marketing materials and may be attributed to the NSS.
  • Publication thresholds of a 50% response rate and 10 responses must be adhered to.
  • Open text comments may be paraphrased in marketing materials, as long as they do not identify any individuals and are not attributed to the NSS.

Unpublished NSS data – optional bank questions, the provider-specific questions:

  • These are largely for internal purposes only, to identify and develop activities for quality enhancement.
  • These results, however, can still be used in marketing materials but may not be attributed to the NSS.
  • Publication thresholds of a 50% response rate and 10 responses must be adhered to.
  • Open text comments from these sections may not be used in marketing materials.

The OfS and providers are subject to the FOIA and FOISA, which provides public access to information held by public authorities. When dealing with requests for information under FOIA and FOISA relating to the NSS data, providers should take guidance from their information governance practitioner and, where applicable, the appropriate regulatory body with responsibility for upholding information rights; the Information Commissioner’s Office for FOIA, and the Scottish Information Commissioner for FOISA. Where appropriate, providers should inform the OfS of requests to help ensure any responses are aligned.

Providers will need to consider any exemptions to the disclosure of information not published on the Unistats or OfS websites, and whether additional information should be provided:

  • With regards to statistical data, the OfS does not publish data below the reliability threshold (50 per cent response rate and at least 10 students responding) because this may misinform student choice. If providers decide to disclose this information, they may wish to provide the requester with additional context by making reference to OfS policy.
  • With regards to personal data, disclosure may be exempt under FOIA section 40(2) or FOISA section 38(2) (personal data relating to third parties).

Personal data must be processed in accordance with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation and UK Data Protection Act 2018. Providers should take guidance from their information governance practitioner and, where applicable, the Information Commissioner’s Office, who have responsibility for upholding information rights.

The NSS privacy statement informs students that their responses will be used solely for research purposes, and all results will be anonymised and provided in the form of statistical information only. Providers should bear in mind that although names are removed from the responses and feedback, it may still be possible for those working at a provider to identify themselves and others. Additionally, data below the reliability threshold may be in such small numbers it could identify individuals. Users should not use or manipulate the data to attempt to identify individuals, or in a way that it is likely to facilitate their inadvertent identification.

The OfS, on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), the Department for Economy, Northern Ireland (DfENI), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and participating private higher education providers, wishes to exercise its right to prevent unauthorised extraction and/or re-utilisation of the whole or a substantial part of the NSS database. This right is described in the Statutory Instrument 1997, No. 3032 (The Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997). The other UK HE funding bodies have unlimited access to the database for their own purposes. Texuna may use the database for purposes in connection with the NSS while under contract to the OfS.” Providers and named students’ unions should only use the database for the purposes described. The OfS reserves the right to take action available to it under the regulations in respect of any infringements of these guidelines.

Access to the additional data is via a password-protected portal operated by Texuna. If you are one of the nominated data dissemination portal contacts and have not received a password, please complete the service request form found: https://nss.texunatech.com/accessrequest.

The nominated NSS data dissemination portal super user at your provider may create up to 30 users; however, this super user must ensure that these individuals are also aware of this guidance.

Following a major review, the NSS was substantially revised in 2017. These are the first major changes to the survey since its establishment in 2005.

The 2017 survey, therefore, used a different main questionnaire from that used in 2016 and previous years. The 2017 questionnaire can be downloaded from www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/Year/2016/CL,302016/

The main changes to the survey in 2017 were:

  • Inclusion of 9 new questions on student engagement
  • Amendment of questions on Learning Resources and on Assessment and Feedback
  • Removal of largely duplicative questions
  • Transfer of personal development questions to optional banks.

While some questions within the survey have remained the same, including the final question on overall satisfaction (previously Q 22, now Q 27), the following caveats apply to the data and to its use.

  • Comparison of data: It is not valid to compare question level responses from 2017 with those from 2016 or previous years and such comparisons should not be undertaken.  We do not endorse any presentations of the data which compare or aggregate question-level data in this way.
  • Time series: As the questionnaire has changed, it is no longer statistically robust to create time series data at question level that includes 2017 data alongside data from previous years, even where the questions remained unchanged.
  • Question level aggregation: Question level responses from 2017 should not be directly aggregated with (compiled together with) data from 2016 or previous years.

Please note that if no data is available for a particular course or provider where students were surveyed, the data did not meet publication thresholds. This does not reflect on the quality of the course or provider. It may be because the course is new or it is small, or we have not received enough survey responses.