Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE)
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Consultation on changes to the National Student Survey and Unistats

The consultation sets out proposed changes to the National Student Survey (NSS) [Note 1], to the Unistats website and to information published by institutions [Note 2].

The proposals reflect the changing environment since the NSS was first established in 2005, including the diversity of the higher education (HE) sector and the student body, as well as the roles of organisation such as the Competition and Markets Authority in improving information. Key developments include the addition of student engagement questions to the NSS to reflect our current understanding of the factors associated with high-quality learning [Note 3], and the redesign of Unistats to make it easier for students with different priorities to find the information they need.

The consultation represents the outcome of the first stage of a review of information about HE which began in 2013. It draws on extensive commissioned research, and on the advice of the UK-wide Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (HEPISG) chaired by Professor Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool [Note 4].

As part of the consultation, three briefing events are being run in Cardiff, Edinburgh and London [Note 5].

The changes to NSS and Unistats will be implemented for 2017. A further stage of consultation may be needed to reflect the development in England of the Teaching Excellence Framework [Note 6].

Professor Janet Beer said: 

‘Information about HE is of central importance in driving and monitoring improvements in learning and teaching, as well as helping students make choices about future study. It is therefore vital that information continues to be relevant and robust. The changes proposed will bring the NSS and Unistats up to date and improve their effectiveness. They will help to reflect the diversity of student information needs, but also the diversity of HE providers and programmes. I would encourage all those with an interest in the student academic experience to engage constructively with the review.’

The consultation invites responses to proposals on:

  • changes to the Unistats website for 2017 intended to make data easier to find and understand

  • information to be published by institutions about their courses for 2017, including transfer of publication of detailed course information from the Key Information Set to institutions

  • changes to the National Student Survey for 2017, including new student engagement questions, and updating of questions on learning resources and on assessment and feedback, as well as the optional questions

  • potential changes to information after 2017 – the consultation seeks early views on capturing feedback from students not included in the NSS, and on gathering qualitative feedback for publication.


1. The National Student Survey has been run every year since 2005. A key research finding of the ‘Review of the National Student Survey' (Institute for Education, Natcen Social Research and Institute for Employment Studies, 2014) is that the NSS plays a greater role in learning and teaching improvement than originally envisaged. In 2015 over 300,000 students responded to the survey, of whom 86 per cent said they were satisfied overall with their course. A further 7 per cent were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their higher education experience; and only 7 per cent were dissatisfied (5 per cent) or strongly dissatisfied (2 per cent).

2. See the consultation document and associated research reports

3. The review found that student engagement is associated with high-quality learning. The proposed new questions relate to three themes:

  • academic challenge, and reflective and integrative learning

  • the learning community and collaborative learning

  • the student voice.

4. HEPISG advises the UK funding bodies on the management and development of information on higher education. View HEPISG’s membership and terms of reference.

5. Read more information about the briefing events.

6. Government plans to publish its Green Paper later this autumn, which will include its plans for a Teaching Excellence Framework in England.

Channel website: http://www.hefce.ac.uk

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