Bob Bailey

A myblog.arts site

The National Student Survey


I was fascinated as to how National Student Survey (NSS) results can effect funding and the national standings of the Universities; fascinated and rather disappointed too. The higher up the podium, the more what? Students? Funding? Prestige (and all that it can bring with it)?

I am very interested in the student experiences and what the students felt about their time at University, the teaching standards, their outcome, the support, what they felt about the student numbers in each class, the quality of feedback and assessments – so much that we can learn about how the students appreciate our input. This session explored student experience through the assessment and ranking of universities and the Teaching Excellence Framework. It was interesting to see the historical and political aspects of that frames current issues of university status and was dismayed by UAL using factors including old Alumni, old bygone status, (quality of teaching spaces (not including LCC or LCF or Wilson Road), a rich history (when students got value for money?), redevelopment and relocation of campuses (Granary Square is leased and may have to move once the lease has expired), Government sponsorship (our overseas enrolment is ever-increasing so our reliance on sponsorship (Beijing) should be decreasing but our investment in International support is not increasing exponentially).

We may not notice it but State funding for Universities has increased even though students are now expected to pay up to £9250 per annum. Funding comes directly from the Government and was differentiated in allocation of money according to subject. Arts and humanities courses were affordable to teach as they could access books from the library and so on. Science is a bit more expensive to teach and Creative Arts was even more as their expenses on spaces and resources materials et cetera. Tuition fees were introduced in 2014. The Government suggested a minimum and maximum fee that students would pay. Not unbelievably; most Universities chose to aim for the higher rate due, in part, to greed and also to combat their fears of state funding being reduced or ceasing. So an Arts University based in London is already at a huge disadvantage (Arts Education is one of the most expensive courses to study, London’s ground rents are extortionately high due to it’s popularity both home and abroad). The conservative Government is attempting to reduce it’s funding so that the Universities will become self-sufficient or get sponsorship from other sources (CSM have many sponsorships but there is an invisible cost to the students where, for example, the recent graduation shows in 3D and Jewellery showed Louis Vuitton, Joseph Joseph, Swarovski etc. all stamped over hoardings and much of the students work too).

“But one impact of lower fees in particular subjects is obvious – reduced income for the universities that teach them. Though the government may be reluctant to admit it, this may be an intended outcome of the review. Thanks to tuition fees, universities have not suffered the pains of austerity in the past decade anything like other parts of the public sector, and remain relatively generously funded on a per student basis compared to schools and colleges.”

We now consider Students as consumers investing in their own education, they have been covered by the Consumer Protection Act since 2014 so the focus on student satisfaction has become significant. Having to quantify this satisfaction is, in some part, noted by students filling out the NSS form at the end of each year’s study but its use becomes political as a use of league tables can suggest that students will use the results to determine which institutions they want to study at in terms of ranking and categories that supports learning experience. Universities with a good classifications (silver or gold) will affect their national and international status thereby cementing the importance of good feedback in the NSS.

So with the university ranking systems and classifications of gold silver and bronze the NSS becomes more important; the pressure to maintain or increase the ‘grade’ is borne by the staff on the cliff face; the lectures and admin staff. During the session we talked about the issues that teachers face in being forced to ensure that their students must fill out the NSS and, indeed finding ways of encouraging and, in some cases, enforcing that students participate in the survey through emotional blackmail or outright bribery. It would be hoped that students who have a strong opinion on their university experience will use the NSS survey to express their feelings clearly and openly.

“One impact of lower fees in particular subjects is obvious – reduced income for the universities that teach them. A change to headline fees does not benefit students or graduates – many of whom will not repay them in full anyway – as much as it benefits the Treasury and the taxpayer. It’s easy to forget in the current system that the Treasury still picks up a substantial part of the bill for higher education, subsidising around 40-45% of the total.”

The NSS forms are be collated, data obtained and the results can then be ‘sprayed’ back over the staff for adjustments or radical shifts to be made to ensure, for the right reasons, the students in following years will be rewarded for their openness by the improvements that staff and the University can make… I absolutely agree that the students are central but I do worry that too much emphasis is put onto a survey where the students may not be quite open to the benefits that take time to digest, install, bear fruit.


In the spirit of the Munday paper on problems and mysteries, we spent the middle section of the seminar we looked at something that is often framed as a problem: ‘Student experience’ and the assessment and ranking of universities through metrics like the National Student Survey (NSS) and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). 


The NSS survey questions are not specific to any subject so as to allow a fair response no matter what subject a student is studying. This may be the fairest way but the generic questions can not relate to every subject taught in Universities across the UK. This would imply that some subjects may be at a disadvantage due to the less than helpful range of questions. Is this the fairest way of evaluating the students’ experiences at University?



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