NSS debate - What you need to know

By Millie Beach (Union President)

The NSS is a decidedly complex debate - there are questions around its purpose, its value for students and institutions, and just how flawed it really is. Having said that, what the NSS has come to represent is even more complicated. So I’m going to try and explain it (potentially with a series of break out blogs) to the best of my ability.


Right back to the basics

The NSS stands for the National Student Survey:

National - it goes to every single public uni in the country, it’s not just York specific

Student - It is sent to every undergraduate student in the final year of their programme.

Survey - students are asked to fill it in based on reflections from their time at university and it is supposed to measure course satisfaction.

How is it used? The data is collected, crunched, broken down and used by universities to identify successes and challenges within the institution. Different universities use it to varying degrees, to make improvements and alterations to certain areas and to the uni as a whole.


Key things you should probably know:

  • It has 27 key questions - all focused on learning experience, assessment and feedback, resources, student voice and overall satisfaction.

  • In order for the NSS results to be made public as valid responses, there is a response rate threshold of 50% per department and at least 10 respondents per degree programme.

  • Anecdotally, we know that past results have contributed to York introducing online submission for coursework, and speeding up feedback time.

  • Anecdotally, we also know that some academics dislike the NSS, as they believe it empowers the university to place additional pressures and restrictions on academics.  


So where’s the debate?

From this year, certain dimenstions of the NSS will be linked to the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) (more on that when I get around to writing it). These dimensions include teaching, assessment and academic support.

The TEF is a new rating system sorting universities into Gold, Silver and Bronze

institutions based on how they score in the following key set of metrics:

  • The scores the university gets in the NSS

  • The number of students who drop out of their courses

  • What students end up doing once they graduate and how much they earn, ie.

graduate employment data


Every institution who enters the TEF and receives a ‘medal’ will be able to raise fees

up to a different level based on what they get.



Good NSS scores → Good TEF score → high TEF grading (gold or silver or bronze)→ institution being able to increase in fees

The TEF also has a lot of other challenges, that I’m going to try to write about at some other time.

The danger is that if students boycott, the NSS will just be ignored completely, or given very low priority, and fees will go up anyway. As no one will have filled in the NSS,  there won’t be any student voice in the process at all and your views will become unimportant in future years too.

So top 3 points for boycotting NSS

  1. Feedback should be used to improve experience, not raise fees.

  2. If lots of students boycott, it will disrupt the TEF and potentially alter government plans.

  3. The NSS is arguably flawed and open to bias already.


Top 3 points for not boycotting...

  1. The NSS is used to improve student academic experience at York.

  2. Academic reps use the NSS to support their arguments in implementing improvements for students.

  3. The government may just ignore the boycott, particularly if only a small number of unions sign up.


Find out more on the YUSU website and have your say at www.yusu.org/representation/referenda/vote