Guidelines

Following a major review, the National Student Survey 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.

Question level aggregation: Question level responses from 2017 should not be directly aggregated with (compiled together with) data from 2016 or previous years.

We are seeking advice from the Office for National Statistics Methodology Group on our own aggregation at the level of themes, which adjusts for differences between the data-sets.  Further details are available at http://www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/nss/.

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

This guidance details the principles institutions should follow when using any additional (unpublished) data submitted by their own students in the 2005-2018 National Student Surveys (NSS). This document also covers data from the additional bank of questions and institution specific questions, which some institutions also opt to use. The NSS Results Portal makes a range of data available. Some of this data is not published on the Office for Students (OfS) or Unistats websites. This includes:

  • Anonymised student comments.
  • Data from the additional bank of questions, which some institutions also opted to use.
  • Data from the institution specific questions, which some institutions also opted to use.
  • Data that does not make the 'reliability threshold' used on the Unistats site. Prior to NSS 2015, the 'reliability threshold' is at least a 50 per cent response rate and at least 23 responses. From NSS 2015, the 'reliability threshold' is at least a 50 per cent response rate and at least 10 responses.

This guidance aims to:

  • Explain the allowed usage of data published on the NSS Results Portal, which is not available on the Unistats site.
  • Offer guidance on the process for responding to requests for such information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA).

The additional data are made available for internal purposes to identify and develop activities for quality enhancement.

Institutions may use the results of the optional scale questions and quantitative scale own institution results, publicly in marketing and publicity materials. However, the following principles must apply:

  • A publication thresholds of 50% and 10 responses must be adhered to.
  • Institutions may not report these results as National Student Survey results.
  • Institutions may not use free text comments made in response to either an institution specific open question (if selected) or the question ‘Looking back on the experience, are there any particularly positive or negative aspects you would like to highlight?’ in publicly available materials, in order to preserve the anonymity of students and staff.

OfS and Institutions 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 National Student Survey Data, Institutions should take guidance from their information governance practitioner and, where appropriate, inform OfS to help ensure any responses are aligned.

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

  • With regards to statistical data, OfS does not publish data below the reliability threshold (50 percent response rate and at least 10 students responding) because this may misinform student choice. If Institutions decide to disclose this information, they may wish to provide the requester with additional context by making reference to OfS policy.
  • Although individual student comments have been anonymised, it may still be possible for individuals to be identified. Additionally, data below the reliability threshold may be in such small numbers it could identify individuals. Disclosing information that identifies individuals could be in breach of the first principle of data protection (fairness and lawfulness), and disclosure may be exempt under FOIA section 40(2) or FOISA section 38(2) (personal data relating to third parties).

The National Student Survey 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. Institutions should bear in mind that although names are removed from the responses and feedback, it may still be possible for those working at an institution to identify themselves and others. Such information may be personal data, and must be processed in accordance with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and UK Data Protection Act 2018

OfS, on behalf of Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), the Department for Economy, Northern Ireland (DfENI), 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 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 OfS.” Institutions and named students’ unions should only use the database for the purposes described. 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 website operated by Texuna. If you are one of the nominated results contacts and have not received a password, please complete the service request form found: https://nss.texunatech.com/accessrequest.

The nominated NSS results super user at your institution contacts may create up to 30 users; however this superuser must ensure that these individuals are also aware of this guidance.