What is the National Student Survey?
The National Student Survey aims to collect ratings of the student experience in their final year of undergraduate courses at providers across the UK. It is one of the largest of its kind in the world with 339,000 responses across the UK this year. This year’s results had a 71.5% overall response rate from students on their experiences of higher education, up from 68.6 percent in 2022.
What’s new this year?
The survey questions and response scales have changed for 2023. The changes include:
- A new 4-point item-specific response scales will replace the Likert response scale
- A new additional question on mental well-being services
- A new additional question on freedom of expression, which will be asked to students in England only
- The final summative question will be asked to students in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland only.
The absence of comparable data from previous years and the changes in question format hinder our ability to contextualise and assess the impact of external factors like the pandemic, the cost of living crisis, or industrial action on student satisfaction. Notably, satisfaction levels in Wales and Scotland were lower, while Northern Ireland saw a slight increase.
In England, custom satisfaction ratings have led to a diverse range of positive outcomes, though it is difficult to determine the reliability of these ratings.
Examination of new experimental thematic measures suggests English students are generally more content. We have to consider that this is potentially due to question design, as we lack certainty whether new questions provide a more accurate reflection or encourage more positive responses. Employing the old survey with a representative sample could have elucidated this. Although students' unions may rejoice in higher satisfaction with academic representation (albeit with room for improvement at 72%), it remains uncertain whether this reflects a significant change or a survey-related outcome.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of interesting data to unpack.
Mental Wellbeing Services
One new measure looked at additional support services provided by universities. NSS results found 75% of students think information about mental well-being support services is well communicated. When compared to other questions, this is one of the lower-scoring responses: on average, over one-quarter of students did not think services were well communicated. We can assume, as a result, that they were underutilised by at least some students who may have found them valuable.
Vygo can play a pivotal role in ensuring students are aware of the opportunities in their support ecosystem, by clearly mapping them in one unified digital space, and by providing a mentor to answer their questions and signpost them to the relevant services. Communities can be set up for underrepresented groups to foster a sense of belonging and community, impacting student wellbeing.
Free Speech and feedback
Most students in England believe their universities and colleges are places of free speech. Almost 86% of those who completed the survey gave a positive response when asked if they feel free to express their ideas, opinions, and beliefs on campus.
In total 38% said they feel very free to speak their mind during their studies and 48% said they feel free to do so, despite a series of rows about free speech on campuses in recent months. Just 11% of respondents reported feeling not very free to express their ideas, while 3% said they are not free at all.
Elsewhere, the survey showed 74% believe their opinions about their course are valued by staff and 61% feel their feedback is acted upon.
Sometimes this can be about lacking the right platform to communicate their opinions, rather than a suppression of them. I have seen that using Vygo can positively impact student’s feelings of being heard, whether by highlighting the correct services to channel their feedback through or by communicating with a trained, non-judgemental mentor who can help explore their perspective and unpack feelings that may otherwise stay locked up, only to be unleashed when they are filling out their survey response.
Course satisfaction and academic engagement
On the question where students were asked if they were satisfied with the overall quality of their course, 75% in Wales gave a positive response, compared with 80% in Northern Ireland and 77% in Scotland. Students in England were not asked this question.
One of the standout revelations from the survey is the level of academic engagement among students. Despite the challenges posed by the evolving educational landscape, a considerable percentage of students expressed positive interactions with their tutors and peers, with responses to “How good are teaching staff at explaining things?” getting the most positive overall score at 90.6%. The themes “Learning and Resources”, “Teaching on my course”, “Learning opportunities” and “Academic support” all scored over 80% positively. This underlines the pivotal role of collaborative learning and effective communication between students and educators and the necessity for universities to foster an environment conducive to dialogue and exchange of ideas. Vygo can help further strengthen the academic satisfaction of your students via academic peer mentoring programs and group workshops to ensure a diverse set of perspectives are discussed.
The course and institution-level responses highlight a significant variation in student satisfaction levels across universities and courses. This variation is a clear reflection of the diverse experiences and expectations students have within different educational environments.
The National Student Survey Results of 2023 serve as a beacon of insights into the ever-evolving landscape of higher education. By looking at the overall data, and in the context of the changes this year, it is difficult to draw any conclusions with certainty. However, course and institution-specific analysis - something I am sure is being carried out in earnest - will enable universities and providers to see where they are below benchmark levels and focus their attention on these areas.
This year's results underscore the importance of a comprehensive approach to enhance student satisfaction, encompassing not only academic support but also extracurricular activities, mental health services, and campus facilities. The importance of clear communication of support services, and an environment conducive to feedback and deep learning cannot be understated. As institutions embrace these insights, they pave the way for an enhanced educational experience that empowers students and propels them toward a brighter future.
If you are considering a Support Ecosystem Platform and Peer Mentoring as a strategy to foster not only academic excellence but also the holistic growth and satisfaction of every student, please reach out to Vygo today.