National Student Survey Results and Guide


Guide to the National Student Survey: FAQs


What is the National Student Survey (NSS)? 

The National Student Survey has been run annually since 2005 and is a census of final year undergraduate students. It is conducted on HEFCE’s behalf by IPSOS MORI UK. 

Why is the survey important?

 It gives students a chance to express their views about their student experience

 It forms part of the quality assurance framework for higher education

 It provides institutions with important information about their performance

 It provides essential information for future/potential students when considering where and what to study.

 The results are used in University League tables.

What is the difference between the National Student Survey and the School’s own internal teaching surveys?

The NSS asks students to provide feedback on their overall student experience on their degree programmes. The School’s internal survey focuses on individual teachers and courses. The NSS surveys final year undergraduates, whilst the LSE surveys all undergraduates and postgraduate taught students. The scaling system is also different – the NSS is scale is in the range 1-5 with 5 as the best score, whilst School’s internal surveys have the same range, but with 1 as the best score.

Who is eligible to take part in the survey?

   All final year undergraduate students

   Students on more flexible part-time programmes, who will normally be surveyed during their fourth year of study

   Students who have withdrawn in their final year of study – their responses are considered equally important/relevant

   Students retaking their penultimate year will be surveyed at that point (not in the final year).

When does the survey take place?

The survey runs from the beginning of January until the end of April.

Week 1

Eligible students receive first email inviting them to complete the survey online

Week 2

Reminder emails sent to non-respondents

Week 3

Telephone interviews (students with only telephone contact details)

Reminder SMS messages sent to non-responding students mobile phones

Weeks 4 & 5

Targeted postal surveys are sent out

Week 6

Start of the main telephone follow-up phase

How do students take part in the survey?

Eligible students receive an e-mail, usually in the first half of January, inviting them to complete the survey online. The survey can be completed online, by paper or by smartphone.

How long does it take to complete the survey?

The survey is very straightforward and only takes a few minutes to complete, or a little longer if you include written comments about your student experience.

What does the survey ask?

There are 23 core questions, relating to the following broad aspects of the student learning experience:

 Teaching on my Course

 Assessment and Feedback

 Academic Support

 Organisation and Management

 Learning Resources

 Personal Development

 Overall Satisfaction

 Students' Union (Association or Guild)

Can I see what the survey questionnaire looks like?

Yes, the following link to the NSS website gives a pdf version of the 2016 questionnaire:

Are students allowed to add open comments?

Yes, respondents are invited to add comments on both positive and negative aspects of their student experience.

Are the students’ responses anonymous? 

Yes, your responses are confidential – institutions will not know whether you have participated in the survey, and results are not attributed to individual respondents.

Can I opt out of the survey?

You can opt out, but you will need to inform IPSOS MORI: respond to any communication they send, making it clear that you do not wish to take part and they will not contact you again. If you simply ignore correspondence from them, they will continue to chase you for a response.

I have already completed the survey and I recently received a reminder. Do I have to complete it again?

There has probably been a problem with your response, which could be due to a number of factors:

(a)   Your response has not come through to the NSS – you should complete the survey again

(b)   Your details do not match those stored in the NSS database, so your response has not been validated: complete the survey again, and check that the identification information you provide is complete

(c)   Your response has not yet been updated or was simply not picked up by the system: you should complete the survey again if you think it should have arrived by now.

I am not a final year student and I received an invitation to take part in the NSS. Should I take part in the survey?

A few students who are not in their final year are eligible to complete the survey, so if  you have been contacted by IPSOS MORI to take part, you are eligible and should complete the survey.

I completed the survey last year—why have I been asked to fill it in again?

If you have been contacted to do the survey this year you are eligible and should complete it. It may be that you were not eligible last year and that you were included in error —your responses from last year last year would not have been taken into account.

Is it possible to change or withdraw my survey responses?

No, survey responses cannot be changed after they have been submitted. 

Who has access to eligible students' contact details? 

Contact details are supplied by the institution where you are studying. They are sent to IPSOS MORI (the organisation that runs the survey). The information they receive is processed and dealt with in compliance with data protection legislation. Personal information and contact details are destroyed once the survey is complete.

Why are response rates important?

A good response rate vital for several reasons:

•     The results are included in public information about institutions including LSE

•     Survey data affect the School’s reputation, including our position in recruiting the best students

•     Data about an institution are published only if its response rate is at least 50%.

How are response rates monitored?

IPSOS MORI start sending response rate reports after a few weeks of the survey going live, and continue throughout the survey period. They can be broken down to give the response rate for each department.

What scales are used for the results?

Students are asked to respond to each statement (question) and are invited to give one of five responses (with best score 5) that indicates their level of agreement: Definitely agree (5); Mostly agree (4); Neither (3); Mostly disagree (2); Definitely disagree (1).

How are the results calculated?

The results are presented in two ways. One measure is a mean score (in the range 1 to 5 with 5 as the best score), averaged over the number of responses to the given question or set of questions, and excluding those who responded N/A. This NSS scale differs from that used in the School’s internal surveys, which have 1 as the best score. 

The other measure is the percentage of responses that are either “definitely agree” (very satisfied) or “mainly agree” (fairly satisfied): that is, the combination of scores 4 or 5. 

What are the publication thresholds?

The publication threshold is at least 50% response rate with at least 23 students responding. Results that are used only internally (not public data) have a lower threshold of at least 10 responses. 

When are the results released?

The results are released in phases throughout August and September.

What are benchmarked results? 

A new feature (introduced in 2011) in the NSS presentation of results is that of benchmarking, which takes account of the fact that different institutions have different mixes of categories of students (by ethnicity, gender, disabilities etc.), who might tend to respond differently to the questionnaires. NSS analysts have allowed for such a possible bias, with respect to the “overall satisfaction” question 22, by calculating a benchmark (expected) score that accounts for the particular student mix at each institution. 

Where are the results published?

Available on the websites of institutions through a KIS (Key Information Sets) widget

On a new national website that includes both KIS and Unistats data    


On the new UCAS course search tool


Summary data is available on the HEFCE website, along with various research papers and reports

Results are used in University League Tables.

Why are there no results for some of our internal departments?

The NSS survey provides results across disciplines in two different ways:

(a) The “public data” — the information made available about all institutions — is for individual subject areas (JACS level 3). This does not necessarily correspond to departments, as different institutions organise subjects in different ways. 

(b) In addition we are provided with some information about some (but not all) of LSE’s departmental groupings.

Secondly, results are not published if the number of responses falls below a certain threshold (see below for more details).

Why are results from the publicly available data and internal data not always the same?

Subject areas and internal departmental structures are not organised in exactly the same way. So the results can sometimes seem slightly different.

Why are some institutions missing from the institutional comparison data?

This is probably because they fall below the publication threshold of at least a 50 % response rate, with at least 23 responses.

What are Key Information Sets (KIS)?

Key information sets have been developed by HEFCE to improve the information available to prospective students. The KIS uses standardized information sets (including NSS results) so that comparisons can be across institutions and courses. They include information on teaching and learning, assessment and feedback, study support (such as library and IT facilities) costs and financial support, employment and salary information.

Where do I find KIS information?

At present the KIS information can be found within the UNISTATS website.

The NSS website reports that there will soon be a new official web-site that enables users to search and compare both KIS and Unistats data (the Unistats site will eventually close, when this new official web-site has been launched).

Information will also be available on the redeveloped UCAS course search tool (Course Finder), which will incorporate the KIS data so users can view the data at the same time as viewing the courses to which they are interested in applying.

How can we increase response rates?

Higher response rates tend to come from those departments that take ‘ownership’ of the process; they advertise it to students on the departmental website, and most successfully, Heads of Department, departmental tutors and departmental administrators urge students personally to complete it. The following methods have been used successfully:

A personal note from the Head of Department to all third-year students encouraging them to complete the survey and assuring them that the department takes their comments seriously - good responses benefit both the School and its students, by driving up teaching standards

Departmental Managers and support staff also encourage third-year students to participate

The Head of Department attends large lectures in person, to emphasize the crucial importance of the NSS survey

A request from the Head of Department that every teacher in the department stresses the importance and benefits of high response rates in the NSS survey.

Linking the survey website to your departmental website

Displaying NSS Promotional material around the School /department, targeting areas that have high levels of student activity 

Advertise the NSS on IT terminals and virtual learning environments such as Moodle

Make use of plasma screens and institutional newspapers

Circulate response rate reports / updates around the department

Send out email reminders – messages from a named contact known to the individual student (such as a course leader or head of department) are often more successful

Involve student representatives and the student union so that there is general awareness of the survey around campus

Provide dedicated time or space to final year students to complete the NSS.