HEFCE published the consultation outcomes for the review of the NSS yesterday. It’s only an analysis of the responses at this stage, not a definitive outcome; we’ll have to wait for the 2016 pilot to be completed before we get that. It does look as though the sector has reached a broad consensus on what the NSS should look like.

There will be a few more questions (possibly 26). They’ll look something like this:

The teaching on my course

  1. Staff are good at explaining things.
  2. Staff have made the subject interesting.
  3. The course is intellectually stimulating.

Assessment and feedback

  1. The criteria used in marking have been clear in advance.
  2. Assessment arrangements and marking have been fair.
  3. Feedback on my work has been timely
  4. I have received helpful comments on my work.

Academic support

  1. I have received sufficient advice and support with my studies.
  2. I have been able to contact staff when I needed to.
  3. Good advice was available when I needed to make study choices.

 Organisation and management

  1. The timetable works efficiently as far as my activities are concerned.
  2. Any changes in the course or teaching have been communicated effectively.
  3. The course is well organised and is running smoothly.

 Learning resources

  1. The library resources (e.g. books, online services) have supported my learning well
  2. The University/College’s IT resources and facilities have supported my learning well
  3. I have been able to access subject specific resources (e.g. equipment, facilities, software) when I needed to

 Academic Challenge and integrative Learning

  1. My course has challenged me to achieve my best work
  2. My course has provided me with opportunities to explore ideas or concepts in depth
  3. My course has provided me with opportunities to bring information and ideas together from different topics
  4. My course has provided me with opportunities to apply what I have learnt

 The Student Voice

  1. I have had the right opportunities to provide feedback on my course
  2. Staff value students’ views and opinions about the course
  3. It is clear how students’ feedback on the course has been acted on

 The Learning Community and Collaborative Learning

  1. I have had the right opportunities to work with other students as part of my course
  2. I feel part of a community of staff and students

 Overall Satisfaction

  1. Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course.

There is scope for these to be tweaked before they are finally agreed.

My overall impression is positive. 26 questions is ok, but it would be good if this could be thinned down a little. The sections on academic challenge and the learning community are overlapping a bit and I suspect some of those questions will draw out the perception issues that existed with the old personal development section. It will be interesting to see the results of the pilot and cognitive testing on this.

I am pleased to see that the funding councils are planning to keep question 4 (the old question 5) on clarity of marking criteria. I thought it was a bit strange that this would be dropped but the question of fairness would be kept. Asking about clarity of marking criteria is more objective where students can provide a clear response and departments can take definitive action to address problems. Fairness is far more subjective and can be influenced by a range of perceptions and ‘one-off’ events.

Student Voice

The questions on student voice are an excellent development and it is great to see such strong support from the sector. These scores will be immensely helpful to institutions to understand where the relationship between students and staff is working well and where it needs attention. It will also bring some very valuable context to all the other questions, I suspect that we will see strong correlation between the responses to this section and the responses to others, because a healthy academic environment will be one in which students feel valued and that their ideas about what can be improved are taken seriously.

I was disappointed to read that a lot of responses still seem to think that the NSS questions have consumerist or customer focus. I just can’t see that, the old questions and the new proposed ones all focus on specific aspects of the student experience. I’ve written about this before, so won’t go on about it again.

I suppose I’m pleased that plans for the students’ union question are evolving too. I found it quite funny how students’ unions had spent years insisting that institutions take student NSS feedback seriously, but the moment the question was turned to them and the scores didn’t look so healthy, they instant fell back on glib criticism of the phrasing of the question. A suggestion buried in paragraph 97 is a very good one I think:

we believe it is premature to make a decision on removing the survey question. Instead, we have responded to concerns about the student interest by developing a revised students’ union survey question, focused on the role of the students’ union in representing students’ academic experience. This has been agreed with NUS and was included in the 2016 pilot as part of the ‘student voice’ bank, rather than placed at the end of the survey as it is currently.

I think this focusses the attention of the question and gives students a valuable opportunity to give feedback to their SU as well as to their university. Over time, it will be interesting to analyse the correlation between the SU questions and the wider student voice ones.

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