The NSS – What Is It and Why Should I Care?


The NSS, or the National Student Survey, is an annual survey that gives further voice to noisy students. The survey asks final year students of undergraduate courses a chance to express their thoughts and provide feedback on the quality of the higher education provider, their course and much more. Think of it as an avenue for revenge if you’re lecturer didn’t dig your dissertation on how, like, Kierkegaard would have totally been the Lord Buckethead of Instagram.

The results of the NSS form part of the Teaching Excellence Framework awards (another sticker for HE providers to add to their collection – more on this later), and the stats are also used by secondary school students and careers advisors when selecting an HE provider. According to the NSS site, 3 million students have answered the 27 core NSS questions from many of the 357 eligible institutions in the UK.

So you know what the NSS is; now we move onto why you should care. If you completed the NSS, it means you are a final year student, and you may be moving on from education. But the comments you make and the questions you answer will provide extremely useful information for future students. If your experience of higher education was fantastic, your positive entry to the NSS might just help a fellow student make an excellent decision for their future. Likewise, if the quality was poor, help others avoid making the wrong choice and go ham on your HE provider. By completing the survey, you’ll also be sending an important (and very public) message to your HE provider on if improvements need to be made.

Weren’t There Boycotts of the NSS?

Correct, the University and College Union along with individual HE provider student unions urged final-year students to boycott the NSS in 2017 and 2018. The issues surrounding the NSS involve the Teaching Excellence Framework and its relationship with tuition fees. As part of the 2017 Higher Education and Research Act, the government attempted to align the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEf) awards (Bronze, Silver, Gold and provisional) with increases in tuition fees for undergraduate courses. The TEF uses data on course continuation rates, graduate employment outcome statistics, and student opinions gathered from, you guessed it, the NSS.   

Say ‘No’ to Marketisation

The overarching argument is against the marketisation of higher education in the UK. There’s an interesting report from the House of Lords on this very topic called “Treating Students Fairly”, and we’ll be following up this post with a summary of the findings from that report soon. Essentially, when the TEF was initially announced, many HE providers signed up so that they could increase fees inline with their award, despite protests against the TEF from students and staff. Gold TEF awards stood to make the biggest increases in tuition fee costs, with prices proposedly set to increase in line with inflation.   

If you’re onboard with halting tuition fee rises and the mass marketisation of higher education in the UK, you too should consider boycotting the NSS. Arguably the affirmative action taken by students in 2017 worked, with 12 HE institutions unable to submit data. Eventually, the government backtracked on the plan to introduce fee increases in line with TEF awards and instead introduced a non-time-specific cap of £9,250 on tuition fees. Although, we’re not sure if that was a direct result of the NSS boycott or the success of the Labour Party in the 2017 general election (we’re guessing the latter).  

Shamefully, staff and student power in higher education appear to have been all but eradicated, and the only means of having their voice heard in this environment is to boycott a survey that greatly benefits prospective students (or, in the case of staff, to strike). It seems only a matter of time until the tuition fee cap is removed, and if the NSS results hinder that move, we suspect the government will simply find new data sets from which to judge HE providers.

If you are looking to go into higher education in the future, you can look up the NSS results at the Office for Students site. Oh, and be sure to follow us on social for updates on our posts.


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