Challenges Thrown Out to NSS and Student Evaluations of Teaching

Written by John Atherton, General Manager, Europe, Explorance.

There is, of course, only one issue that is etched on everyone’s minds at the moment: the coronavirus (COVID-19). As the unfortunate news continues to develop, and with the increasing number of coronavirus cases in Europe, we made the difficult decision to postpone Bluenotes Europe 2020 which was scheduled to take place in Glasgow on 25th-26th March.

Lots of work had been done by a lot of people to bring the conference programme together, including keynote speakers, presenters, panel members, great debate members, and the event organising team. However, upon careful consideration, we concluded that it was in the best interests of everyone involved to eliminate any risks posed by travelling to the conference. We have now rescheduled for 21st-22nd October.

We are not the only ones affected, of course, and the HE world is continuing to carefully monitor the advancing outbreak of the coronavirus. What this does mean, however, is developments away from COVID-19 are perhaps not getting the attention they usually would.

One of these is a new insight brief on the National Student Survey (NSS) published by the Office for Students (OfS), which of course also recently launched its student engagement strategy, the topic of my last blog in February. I was particularly drawn to the ‘Student voice: impact and value’ section, but the report overall highlighted some challenges thrown out to the survey.

OfS takes an experimental approach to analysis of NSS responses for 2018 and 2019, creating benchmark responses for student demographic characteristics that control the potential variation caused by other characteristics. Using this method, OfS highlights concerns for part-time students experiencing a sense of community and student voice. Two questions saw less than half of part-time students agree as well as being markedly under the benchmark: 47.6% agreed that their feedback had been acted on (13.8 percentage points behind their full-time peers and 7.5 percentage points below their benchmark), while 47.1% agreed they were represented by their Students’ Union (8.9 percentage points behind their full-time peers and 3.7 percentage points below their benchmark).

The report says: “this stark difference suggests that not all students feel equally listened to or that their views are equally represented. That part-time students’ agreement is below the benchmark for all these questions suggests that they feel less listened to and less part of the community of their university or college than their full-time counterparts”. Clearly there is some reflection needed here on how universities engage all types of students in module evaluation surveys, which go on to influence NSS feedback. At Explorance, we support universities in engaging traditionally ‘harder to reach’ students on the understanding that not all students are able to, or wish to, give feedback in the same way.

One session we are looking forward to at the rescheduled Bluenotes Europe is a debate on whether student evaluations of teaching are an important tool for evaluating overall Faculty performance. This article in THE  explores the issue of students who criticise their lecturers in module evaluation feedback surveys. It discusses the implications and consequences of this on individuals. In a world which appears geared more than ever to recognising mental health it poses some important questions for reflection.


John Atherton is General Manager, Europe at Explorance


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