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Office for Students - National Student Survey 2023, results and outcomes of consultation on proposed changes

The annual National Student Survey has been updated this year in both its approach and the presentation of the results, following a sector-wide consultation on proposed changes conducted in March 2023. New direct questions with item-specific response scales have been introduced to improve students’ understanding and to enhance the accuracy of results. For the first time students have been asked about mental wellbeing services, and in England about freedom of expression. Students in England were not asked how satisfied they were with the overall quality of their course. New “theme measures” based on the question groups in the questionnaire have been introduced and are presented this year as experimental statistics. Factors used to calculate benchmarks have also been changed. Both these and the theme measures are subject to further review. The OfS has published an analysis of responses to the consultation and its decisions alongside the NSS results

This year’s NSS received over 339,000 responses, with an overall response rate of 71.5 per cent, compared with 68.6 per cent last year. The cohort experienced significant disruption throughout their course, including COVID lockdown measures and industrial action affecting teaching and assessments.


  • Most students were happy with the quality of teaching on their course, with 91 per cent saying teaching staff were good at explaining things, and 84 per cent considering their course to be intellectually stimulating and challenging. Some 80 per cent felt teaching staff made their subject engaging
  • Exactly three quarters of responding students thought information about their institutions’ mental wellbeing support services was well communicated
  • In England, 86 per cent of students said they felt free to express their ideas, opinions and beliefs
  • Some 80 per cent of students in Northern Ireland, 77 per cent in Scotland, and 75 per cent in Wales, felt satisfied with the quality of their course overall. This question has been dropped from the survey in England
  • On the quality of learning opportunities, most scores ranged from 82 to 84 per cent, with the strongest area being how courses introduced subjects and skills in ways that built on prior learning. The weakest area was getting the balance right between independent and directed study, scoring 76 per cent
  • While students were mostly happy with the level of academic support they received (scores between 83 and 84 per cent), some aspects of assessment and feedback are still a relative weakness, with just 72 per cent of students agreeing feedback helped to improve their work and 76 per cent feeling that marking criteria were clear
  • Some of the lowest scores came under the theme of the ‘student voice’, with just 61 per cent of respondents feeling it was clear how students’ feedback on their course was acted upon, and just under three quarters (74 per cent) taking a positive view on the extent to which students’ opinions were valued by staff
  • Just 72 per cent of respondents considered students’ academic interests to be well represented by their students’ union
  • In its analysis report on responses to this year’s NSS consultation, the OfS says benchmarking of results will continue to be used and extended to every level of the findings, with some changes being applied to the benchmarks but subject to further review
  • The current general approach to publishing NSS results will continue, with just one change: results for providers or subjects where everyone has responded negatively will be replaced with just a flag to show the results were very low

Implications for governance:

The National Student Survey is one of the most important sources of information available to universities, colleges and alternative providers and their governors about the undergraduate student experience and satisfaction levels both nationally and at their institution. Governors will therefore be keen to note and consider the implications of changes to this year’s NSS, and any plans for further reviews.

Initially two new areas probed in the survey: wellbeing support services, and in England, free speech, may warrant particular attention. Results on the latter show that, in England, 86 per cent of students said they felt free to express their ideas, opinions and beliefs. It is worth noting that the OfS recently announced the appointment of a director for freedom of speech and academic freedom, and governors will wish to examine results for their own institutions to check for any potential problems. Feedback on wellbeing support is only moderately good, suggesting some universities and colleges may still be falling short in effectively communicating information about this. If so, then this is also an area where governors will want to drill down to find what can be done to address any shortcomings.

The survey also throws a spotlight on difficulties both institutions and student unions appear to be having in tuning into and appropriately responding to the ‘student voice’. On a positive note, some 80 per cent of respondents felt they got the opportunities to give feedback on their course, but much less encouragingly only 61 per cent felt it was clear that feedback on the course was acted upon. This once again may be a question of brushing up on communication. Student representatives, including student governors, could play a key role here, and it appears from the survey results that there is plenty of room for improvement in the way students’ unions represent students’ academic interests. As noted last year when this issue arose, under the Education Act 1994 institutional governing boards are responsible for ensuring good governance in the Students’ Union. This suggests a need to build relationships with the Students’ union board and to understand where the institution and students’ union are working in partnership to improve this score.

Governors would be well advised to look through the OfS analysis of responses to its NSS consultation and subsequent decisions on the proposals. While the general approach to publishing the NSS results is unchanged, the devil, as ever, is potentially in the detail. This year new experimental theme measures have been introduced, based on the question groups in the NSS questionnaire. The OfS says theme measures are subject to further review, and it recommends considering the questions which make up each group of questions instead of relying only on the theme measure. Results in this area should not be used for marketing purposes, it warns.

Another area that will no doubt be of interest is the use of benchmarks. This will not only continue but be extended to be included “at every level of aggregation”. But as a provisional approach some changes will be made to the factors used to calculate the benchmarks. This is subject to review and possible further changes. Looking further ahead, new questions relating to healthcare, allied health, and clinical practice placements made be added, but this too is subject to review and has not been applied to this year’s results.

Governors and their institutions will now need to turn their attention to questions around how they communicate their results. In England, where there is no longer an overall satisfaction score, this may involve digging deeper into the data to identify particular strengths. Meanwhile internally every institution will be scrutinising the details to identify any weaknesses that must be addressed.

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