Blog post

National Student Survey: The importance of student feedback

Student feedback is essential for universities to gain a clear picture of what students really think about their university choice and course. With the release of the National Student Survey results today (July 27), Professor Malcolm Todd, Provost (Academic) at the University of Derby, discusses the importance of student feedback.

By Malcolm Todd - 27 July 2018

What is the National Student Survey?

The National Student Survey (NSS) is a high-profile annual census of nearly half a million students across the UK, commissioned by the Office for Students. Aimed at mainly final-year undergraduates, it gathers opinions about their time in higher education, asking them to provide honest feedback about what it has been like to study on their course at an institution.

The NSS provides important feedback across a range of aspects of the student experience, including the quality of teaching, assessment and feedback and resources (e.g. library and IT). This feedback is crucial in our approach to continually enhance and develop the quality of the experience we provide for our students.

How is feedback collected?

Academic course teams receive the feedback collected from their student cohort and, from detailed analysis of the feedback, they construct an action plan, which addresses any areas requiring enhancement, but also recognises aspects of the course which the students highly value.

As well a detailed action plan, course-level feedback from the NSS is also used to inform university-wide initiatives.  For example, next academic year the University of Derby will launch its new Personal Academic Tutoring system. This new system has been designed, in part, from feedback derived from the NSS. Every student will be allocated a personal academic at the start of the year and they will work with them throughout their studies offering structured academic advice. The new scheme will ensure a consistent and high quality experience for all our students.

At Derby, the majority of students completed the NSS survey within organised sessions supported by officers of the Union of Students. This important collaboration between the university and the Union of Students (US) not only ensures high completion rates but, for each student completing the NSS, the US receives a donation from the University to one of the charities they support. There are multiple opportunities for students to give their opinions of the university, learning opportunities, resources, learning community and student voice, throughout the year and it is important that this information is analysed and then acted upon.

This year, Derby has achieved its highest ever completion rate at 82%, which means 2,750 students completed the survey within the three months that it was open. This high completion rate ensures that we are hearing and able to respond to the views of the vast majority of the student body.

Why is student feedback important?

Gathering and responding to feedback is crucial to our approach of continual enhancement of the student experience. The NSS is completed by final-year students at the end of their award however, to ensure we have ongoing picture of how our students are experiencing their study, the University of Derby survey is completed by both first and second year students. This feedback will be acted upon in the same way as that of the NSS. This will mean that, as students progress through their degrees, their views on their course are being continually gathered and responded to.

The new regulator, Office for Students, has emphasised the importance of every student receiving ‘value for money’ from their education. In recent research conducted by the Union of Students, students were asked what they believed constituted ‘value for money’. The highest rated aspect constituting value for money was high quality of teaching. In recent years, the NSS has shown that the University of Derby provides very high quality teaching, being ranked in the top 10 universities for teaching quality. This year is no exception with the student satisfaction with teaching reaching 86%.

A number of the areas of feedback including teaching quality and assessment and feedback within the NSS are used as measures within the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to assess the overall quality of the delivery of the University’s provision. Derby is proud to hold TEF Gold status and we would have not achieved this without responding to the views of our students.

The NSS results follow Derby’s inclusion earlier this month in the top 100 institutions in Europe for teaching excellence in the Times Higher Education rankings, and our Teaching and Learning Strategy of the Year win at the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards (THELMAs) in June. Derby was also included as one of the world’s top 250 new universities, in the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) Young University Rankings 2018, which measure universities across their teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income.

What is happening at Derby?

To ensure students play a meaningful part in University decision-making, the Vice-President of the Union of Students co-chairs the Student Experience Learning and Teaching Committee – a major committee with significant influence and one that is supported by the Vice-Chancellor. The University Executive team also meets annually with students, giving them the chance to ask questions or raise any areas of concern.

Derby has a Student Experience Framework, which was designed with input from students and staff, and groups together existing opportunities for student learning and personal development offered by the University in one place. It also offers new opportunities such as the International Travel Awards, which this year has seen students visit Iceland, Budapest and New York.

In addition, this year the Student Experience Team offered a new fund to students this year called the Make a Change Fund, which allowed students to bid for a maximum award of £1,000 that could support a project inside the University or within the University. This showed to students that there was financial backing of ideas that students had and that the University would be willing to listen to them and, if successful, support them.

We have also piloted a Peer Assisted Learning scheme in five undergraduate programmes this year, which allowed students in level 5 to support students in level, increasing their employability and pedagogic skills by becoming peer mentors to the students on their programme on level 4.

At Derby, we have always ensured students’ voices are heard. However, over the past year we have paid even greater attention to the student voice and have set up Student Experience Partners, linking to every college, with the aim of helping departments with student voice activities and supporting the build up to and then auctioning of the survey season, which resulted in the highest University response rate score on record.

Today’s success is fantastic news for Derby. Our philosophy is not to see our students as ‘consumers’ of an educational product. Instead, our commitment is to work in true partnership with our students to constantly seek out ways in which we can enhance and improve the student experience.

The students at the University of Derby work with us in varied ways to assure that they will receive an outstanding quality experience which takes them onto whatever they want to do in the future, whether that’s further study, research or graduate-level employability.

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About the author

Malcolm Todd
Former Provost

Malcolm Todd is the former provost at the University of Derby. He has published widely on learning and teaching matters, especially around the themes of learner autonomy, work-based learning and the teaching of 'race' and ethnicity.