A total of 324,329 undergraduates took part in the 2022 National Student Survey conducted between 6 January and 30 April, a response rate of 68.6 per cent. Some 382 universities, colleges and other higher education providers from all four countries of the UK participated in the exercise. Significantly, most students taking part in the survey will have felt the impact of the pandemic on the final two years of their study.
- For most statements, the proportion of students expressing positive views about their experience has remained fairly stable since 2021, showing some recovery from declines between 2020 and 2021 during the Covid pandemic
- 76.3 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the quality of their course overall, up from 74.4 per cent last year - but below the previous lowest figure for overall satisfaction of 80.3 per cent, recorded in 2006
- The biggest jump was seen in the question on access to course-specific resources where 82.5 per cent of students agreed with the statement, an 8.7 percentage point increase from 2021
- 80 per cent of students gave positive responses about the quality of their teaching, unchanged from 2021 but a drop from 84 per cent in 2020. 84 per cent agreed that staff explained things well, no change from last year
- 65 per cent (compared with 64 per cent in 2021) agreed their course was well organised and running smoothly. 71 per cent (70 per cent in 2021) agreed that changes in the course were communicated effectively
- Institution-level data shows variation in the views of students studying different subjects – with 89 per cent of veterinary students positive about the quality of teaching on their course, compared with 76 per cent of computing students across the UK
- While many subjects have shown signs of post-pandemic recovery, there is a small further dip in positive ratings for medicine and dentistry, and physical sciences, on the teaching quality questions
- There are significant variations between individual universities and colleges. At one end of the scale, a university overall satisfaction at 90 per cent. Meanwhile, others had satisfaction scores below 60 per cent.
Implications for governance:
The National Student Survey is one of the most important sources of information available to universities, colleges and alternative providers and their governors about the undergraduate student experience and satisfaction levels both nationally and at their institution.
Sector level data shows some recovery in students’ views about the quality of courses and teaching following the Covid pandemic dip in results. The biggest jump in the proportion of positive responses related to access to resources, which Universities UK points out is an endorsement of improvements in digital learning resources made during the pandemic.
Relatively low scoring questions across the sector include timely feedback (65 per cent agree), well organised and smoothly running courses (65 per cent agree), feeling part of a community of staff and students (58 per cent agree) and feeling that feedback from students about the course has been acted on (50 per cent – one of the lowest scores in the survey).
Interestingly the question on whether the Students’ Union effectively represents students’ academic interests is another low scorer with barely half of respondents agreeing. While this has been the case since the question set was changed and the Students’ Union question changed from overall satisfaction to being represented academically there are implications which governors should seek further clarity on. Under the Education Act 1994 institutional governing boards are responsible for ensuring good governance in the Students’ Union. This suggests a need to build relationship with the Students’ union board and to understand where the institution and students’ union are working in partnership to improve this score.
Institution-level results have significant implications, feeding in to all-important higher education league tables. As indicated by Office for Students interim director Susan Lapworth, the data will now inform the regulator’s work on “driving up quality”, making it even more central to governance considerations.
The OfS press release published with the data highlights “significant variation” between individual universities and colleges and between subjects and it is here that governors may want to focus their attention. Indeed the interim director makes clear that the OfS expects each university and college to make this a priority and “to reflect on its results to ensure that the quality of courses remains high”.
Governors will be comparing their institutions results to national averages and to the data at comparator institutions. Provider-level benchmarks for each question also give governors an idea of performance against what might be expected, given the mix of students.
Some large providers and healthcare related courses have seen a drop in student satisfaction on academic support, perhaps explained by the pressure on healthcare students and departments during and following the pandemic and two bumper years of student recruitment putting pressure on staff and faculties. The levels of dissatisfaction are significant, according to some commentators, with 60 per cent of medical students at one institution disagreeing that their course was well organised and running smoothly, for instance.
Variation in the quality of teaching across subjects is an area of interest to the OfS and one that that governors will also want to consider in relation to their own results.
The data shows that students studying subject such as design, and creative and performing arts – areas that are potentially at risk from the OfS outcome thresholds – have responded more positively than they did in 2021.
Strong NSS results in particular subjects can potentially provide an important source of evidence of quality for universities coming under scrutiny because of courses at or below the new numerical baselines on retention, completion and graduate employment rates. Conversely, poor subject-specific NSS data on top of problematic outcomes could prove very challenging for some institutions.
An overhaul of the student survey is underway and it is expected that this year could be the last time students are asked about overall satisfaction in their course. A consultation on what the 2023 edition of the survey will look like is expected this summer.
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