Students Staff
University of Essex

January 24, 2019

Why student surveys matter

Our Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), Professor Madeline Eacott, tells us why the results of the annual National Student Survey (NSS) are so important.

Professor Madeline Eacott

Professor Madeline Eacott

Here at Essex we believe in putting student success at the heart of everything we do. The NSS survey gives the University the opportunity to receive direct, anonymous feedback from our own students on how they think we are doing. And, of course, this gives us an opportunity to improve.

Launched in 2005, the NSS asks all final year undergraduate students 27 questions (listed below) covering all aspects of their living and learning experience, including the teaching, assessment and academic support available as well as aspects such as how they are able to contribute their views and feel part of the learning community.

As an institution, we can also add an optional question. This year we chose to ask ‘What single change would have had the most positive impact on the quality of your learning experience at the University of Essex?’

The results of the NSS are made publicly available on Unistats to help prospective students make informed decisions about where and what to study.  They also make a substantial contribution to our ranking in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide, as well as other UK ranking systems.

So once the survey is complete, and the results are in, what happens next?

The results are scrutinised in many places. Each department, for example, considers the results from their own students and agrees a plan of actions with their Executive Dean in relation to improving their courses.

But alongside this departmental scrutiny, the results are considered at an institutional level to see whether there are any broader issues raised. For example, the library examines results across departments to see how we can improve the library services we offer to our students and the Student Experience Committee considers all the free-text comments to pick out any common themes which could be addressed.

Given the multitude of ways the data is considered and actions planned, there might be a danger of an uncoordinated response. For this reason, I chair an NSS Coordination Group, attended by our three Executive Deans, alongside four senior colleagues from Academic Section and CER.

The group’s brief is to ensure there is a coherent and consistent approach across the University in terms of delivering on the many and various action plans that come from consideration of our NSS results. Ultimately, our aim is to ensure we offer an excellent education with which students will be very satisfied.

We work together to make meaningful improvements.

Our students are at the heart of this process. Not only is the NSS data provided by final year students at Essex, current students and the SU also help us understand how we can use it to improve student satisfaction.

For example at the Senior Staff Conference in November dedicated to improving student satisfaction, SU President, Tanki Chartier, and SU VP Education, Edmund Walker spoke passionately about the student experience and initiatives were launched as a result.

Equally, departments are holding focus groups with their students to understand how they can better support their students’ learning. One outcome has been that many departments have launched for the first time this year mid-module feedback to allow students to give feedback early in the module so that action can be taken to rectify any issues before the module ends.

 The 2019 NSS will go live from Monday 4 February and runs until Tuesday 30 April.

Each year, teams from across our University pull together to encourage students to complete the survey. Our response rates are good. Last year we achieved 68% compared with a national average of 65%. This year we are aiming for at least 70%.

Everyone can contribute.

Whether our roles involve encouraging students to explore new ideas, assessing their coursework, staffing the library, building new classrooms, fixing IT systems, or devising timetables, we’re all here to help students get the very best out of their time at Essex.

The NSS is a snapshot of our efforts, through the eyes of our students. I hope that when the 2019 survey launches we will all be ready to play our part as members of this community. I hope we can coordinate our efforts to achieve the best response rate, the best results, and once the results are in, act with renewed energy to make continual improvements towards excellence in education.

NSS questions

NB for these questions, the surveys asks students to respond on a scale from ‘definitely agree’ to ‘definitely disagree’.

 The teaching on my course

  1. Staff are good at explaining things.
  2. Staff have made the subject interesting.
  3. The course is intellectually stimulating.
  4. My course has challenged me to achieve my best work.

Learning opportunities

  1. My course has provided me with opportunities to explore ideas or concepts in depth.
  2. My course has provided me with opportunities to bring information and ideas together from different topics.
  3. My course has provided me with opportunities to apply what I have learnt.

Assessment and feedback

  1. The criteria used in marking have been clear in advance.
  2. Marking and assessment has been fair.
  3. Feedback on my work has been timely.
  4. I have received helpful comments on my work.

Academic support

  1. I have been able to contact staff when I needed to.
  2. I have received sufficient advice and guidance in relation to my course.
  3. Good advice was available when I needed to make study choices on my course.

Organisation and management

  1. The course is well organised and is running smoothly.
  2. The timetable works efficiently for me.
  3. Any changes in the course or teaching have been communicated effectively.

Learning resources

  1. The IT resources and facilities provided have supported my learning well.
  2. The library resources (e.g. books, online services and learning spaces) have supported my learning well.
  3. I have been able to access course-specific resources (e.g. equipment, facilities, software, collections) when I needed to.

Learning community

  1. I feel part of a community of staff and students.
  2. I have had the right opportunities to work with other students as part of my course.

 Student voice

  1. I have had the right opportunities to provide feedback on my course.
  2. Staff value students’ views and opinions about the course.
  3. It is clear how students’ feedback on the course has been acted on.
  4. The students’ union (association or guild) effectively represents students’ academic interests.
  5. Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course.
  6. Looking back on the experience, are there any particularly positive or negative aspects you would like to highlight?

 NB there are also additional questions on NHS practice placements, Degree Apprenticeships and a bank of optional questions.

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