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October 2004/33
Core funding/operations
Report on consultation and next steps

Details of lead contacts at HEIs to be returned by 22 October 2004

National Student Survey 2005

Outcomes of consultation and guidance on next steps

Results from the National Student Survey will be an essential element of the revised quality assurance framework for higher education. This document summarises responses to the consultation on the survey, sets out the decisions made and the rationale for them, and provides guidance to higher education institutions on the actions they need to take to participate in the first full-scale survey in 2005.

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges
Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Of interest to those responsible for: Learning and teaching, Information management, Student data, Quality assurance
Reference: 2004/33
Publication date: October 2004
Enquiries to:

Rachael Tooth
tel 0117 931 7066

At Ipsos UK:
HEI Helpline Service
tel 020 8861 8110

Table of contents and executive summary (read on-line)


Report and Annexes A-C
[ MS Word 465K | Zipped Word 114K | Adobe PDF 167K | Zipped PDF 140K ]

Annex D Institutional contact with Ipsos UK - to be returned to Ipsos UK by 22 October 2004
[ MS Word 24K | Zipped Word 4K | Adobe PDF 7K | Zipped PDF 5K ]

Annex E Consultation events on NSS reporting methods - to be returned to HEFCE by 30 November 2004
[ MS Word 37K | Zipped Word 6K | Adobe PDF 10K | Zipped PDF 8K ]


  • Executive summary
  • Background
  • Scope and coverage of the survey
  • The questionnaire
  • Administration of the survey
  • Reporting issues
  • Management and review
  • Timetable
  • Annex A National Student Survey 2005 Questionnaire
  • Annex B Membership of the National Student Survey Pilot Steering Group
  • Annex C Summary of consultation responses
  • Annex D Institutional contact with Ipsos UK
  • Annex E Consultation events on NSS reporting methods
  • List of abbreviations

Executive summary


1.   Results from the National Student Survey (NSS) will be an essential element of the revised quality assurance framework for higher education, as part of a package of new public information on teaching quality. The survey is designed primarily to inform prospective students and their advisers in choosing what and where to study.

2.   The details of the survey have been the subject of consultation (in HEFCE 2004/22), and a pilot exercise. This document summarises responses to the consultation, sets out the decisions made on conducting the first full scale NSS, and provides guidance to higher education institutions (HEIs) on the actions they need to take to participate in the survey.

Key points

3.   The first full NSS will be conducted during the spring term 2005. We will aim to publish results in summer 2005 on the Teaching Quality Information (TQI) web-site hosted by HERO, alongside other statistics and reports on teaching quality in higher education.

4.   The 2005 NSS will include all undergraduate students registered at publicly-funded HEIs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, during or near to their final year of study (with some exceptions, see paragraphs 23 and 30). The questionnaire to be used has been revised and shortened (see Annex A).

5.   The survey will be ambitious in attempting to report results that are both reliable and at a detailed level. A high response rate will be needed for this, and hence a range of survey methods including telephoning will be used. We have appointed Ipsos UK to conduct the 2005 NSS using a range of online, postal and telephone survey methods, and to co-ordinate a promotional campaign across the sector to boost responses. In summary, the process will involve:

  1. As soon as practicable, institutions selecting when, during the spring term, the survey should take place for their students, and then providing contact details for all relevant students by the end of November 2004.

  2. Ipsos UK will then invite students by e-mail to complete the questionnaire online. Those students who do not respond will then be sent a postal questionnaire, to their term-time address. Those students who still do not respond will then be followed up by telephone. In some cases, attempts will be made to contact students at their vacation addresses.

  3. Ipsos UK, in consultation with key stakeholders, will also develop an independent, national brand for the survey, and will produce promotional materials aimed at students. These will be distributed to institutions and students' unions for local dissemination.

6.   While these multiple attempts to contact students will be necessary, the survey will avoid the possibility of students feeling intruded upon. Students will be able to opt out at any stage in the process, and the survey will be carefully managed so that once a student has responded, no further contact will be made.

7.   We will aim for a response rate near to 60 per cent, so that results can be published at subject level, for each institution. Users of the TQI web-site will be able to generate comparisons between selected provision, using a 'basket' approach. Results will not be available on the site if the data fall below a certain 'reliability threshold'.

8.   Concerns were raised about the proposed use for reporting purposes of the 19 main subject areas defined by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). We have therefore asked HESA to develop a more detailed subject categorisation, which also takes into account cohort sizes.

9.   During the autumn, a range of reporting formats will be tested with users, and, following some consultation seminars in January 2005, decisions about reporting methods will be taken.

10.   As well as publishing results on the TQI web-site, we will commission researchers to assess the survey's reliability and identify national trends in the data, and to work with HEIs and other interested parties such as students' unions, to provide them with feedback. HEIs will have the opportunity to define their internal structure of subjects for this feedback.

11.   A new steering group is being established to oversee and review the 2005 NSS, advise on the reporting issues, and advise on the longer term strategy for developing and embedding the survey, in the light of lessons learnt during the first full-scale exercise.

Action required

12.   The conduct of the NSS will be centralised as far as possible, so that it is seen to be independent, and to minimise the burden on HEIs. We have appointed Ipsos UK to conduct the survey and co-ordinate a promotional campaign across the sector.

13.   Institutions should nominate a main contact for liaison with Ipsos UK, by completing the form at Annex D and returning it by Friday 22 October. Ipsos UK will make contact shortly thereafter, to:

  • confirm start dates

  • make arrangements for providing student contact data. As described below, institutions should generate a list of students to be included in the survey, using the web-facility described in '2003-04 statistics derived from HESA data: guide to HEFCE web facility' (HEFCE 2004/29). Contact data for these students should be completed and provided to Ipsos UK by 30 November 2004

  • arrange facilities for Ipsos UK to e-mail students

  • arrange promotional activities. It would be beneficial if students' unions become involved in the promotional activities, and additional contacts at students' unions may be sought

  • endeavour to answer any queries regarding the survey.

14.   In January 2005 we are hosting three events to consult with institutions, students' unions and other key stakeholders on reporting methods. Institutions should use the forms at Annex E to book places for these events, by Tuesday 30 November 2004.