skip to main content

Responding to the National Student Survey

Written by Nigel Carrington
Published date 29 September 2011

The NSS cannot be ignored, much as we would argue that it does not provide a reliable guide to the overall quality of our educational experience. We have therefore worked hard over the last three years to analyse the reasons for our low overall scores and to set about improving specific aspects of the student experience. 

It is generally acknowledged that it is very hard for institutions like ours to achieve very high satisfaction scores in the NSS given the particular challenges of living and commuting in London, coupled with the way that art and design institutions teach.  Nevertheless, the fact that, until this year, the UAL score in the NSS was about 20% below the national average has been a cause for major concern, particularly given the Government’s decision to introduce Key Information Sets (KIS) for prospective students from 2013.  Since the KIS will encourage students to review very specific course data (including NSS data), we face inevitable student questions and scepticism unless we can show that we are addressing the underlying issues behind low scores.

Focus on student experience is bearing fruit

Over the last few years, many staff across the University have worked on projects designed to tackle some of the most intractable student experience issues. We have, for instance undertaken a Technical Review and devised new marking criteria to improve assessment and feedback; we are in the middle of a major review of Registry Services; and, most significantly, all Colleges have piloted course clustering as part of the SICOM project: cognate courses are now being clustered together under programme directors who will then work to ensure that more focused academic and administrative support is provided to both staff and students. 

I am delighted that these initiatives and a general focus on the student experience appear to be bearing fruit (as reflected in the report to Academic Standards and Development Committee on the NSS Results 2011 which can be accessed at NSS 2011 ASDC Report): NSS scores have risen across the board by an average of 7%, with some striking improvements in some Schools and Colleges. In particular, the percentage of respondents at Chelsea expressing overall satisfaction has risen by 21% to 82% and LCC’s scores have risen on average by 14% to 67%.

Together these results suggest that we should now be capable of further improving the student experience as recent decisions are consolidated and specific initiatives implemented. 

For the first time this year, HEFCE has introduced sector-adjusted benchmarks for each institution. HEFCE believes that these adjusted benchmarks take into account the factors which are known to affect results, including subject mix and student characteristics. UAL’s 2011 Overall Satisfaction benchmark is 76%, 7% higher than the result achieved in 2011. 

I am confident that we can meet and exceed the 76% benchmark over the next two years if we continue to focus on specific initiatives, share good practice and maintain highly productive dialogues with our students.