How are universities increasing student responses to national student surveys?

Donna Hurford – Educational Developer at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) Centre for Teaching and Learning, and thanks to members of the SEDA mail-list for their contributions.

The University of Southern Denmark is looking for ways to incentivise student responsiveness to a national student survey on their university education. This led me to asking SEDA members for their experiences with the high-status National Student Survey (NSS), which is managed by the Office for Students (OfS) and implemented by Ipsos. Through the NSS, students provide their UK universities with feedback on the quality of their courses and provision for learning. Considering its significance for course quality, student satisfaction and recruitment it is unsurprising that all UK universities participate in the NSS. However as NSS responses for courses are publicly available, it is both high-status and high stakes. For guidance on supporting student participation and avoiding inappropriate influence universities can turn to the annually updated NSS Good Practice Guide 2023. But how does this guidance get put into practice? Thanks to members of the SEDA mail-list for the following insights.

  1. Clear communication
    The NSS Good Practice Guide includes advice on communication time-lines, how to differentiate email content and how lecturers can refer to the survey without inappropriately influencing student responses. The importance of planning and implementing a clear institutional communication strategy for the students and staff about the NSS is fundamental. One example of actioning such a strategy is an institution-wide communications ‘toolkit’ available to all lecturers, which reiterates what is and is not permissible.
  2. Student Ambassadors
    A Canadian university seeking to incentivise student responses to their National Survey of Student Experience, an equivalent of the NSS, has a group of student volunteer ambassadors who visit classes reminding students why the survey matters from the student perspective. The student ambassadors are also excellent at generating different suggestions for student engagement.
  3. Individual or altruistic incentives
    Aside from the individual monetary or token incentives for completing the survey, at one institution they combine friendly inter-departmental competition for the highest response rates with donating to charities nominated by the Student Union. The higher education institution provides each department with a donation fund of around £2000 – £3000, some departments supplement their fund. When a department’s survey responses reach a threshold, a nominated charity receives a particular amount from the departmental donation fund. By publishing departmental response rates, staff and student representatives are incentivised to collaborate on increasing their department’s response rate and in turn making higher donations to their charity. The students respond well to the philanthropic motivation and the friendly competition.
  4. ‘You Said We Did’
    When institutions act on student feedback, it is vital that the message gets across to students and staff that theirs is a listening and receptive institution. In this way institutions build feedback and action cultures, which encourage students and staff to contribute constructive feedback and in turn to recognise and appreciate changes. Institutions are sharing the NSS informed changes in creative ways, from posting relevant ‘You Said We Did’ screen savers on library computers to distributing ‘You Said We Did’ printed coasters on tables in communal areas to positioning roll-ups where their ‘You Said We Did’ messages matter most. In this way, institutional changes are shared via diverse media and target relevant contexts.

    To summarise, follow the NSS Good Practice Guide or a national equivalent, implement a communication strategy, get staff and students onboard, look for ways to incentivise student responses through friendly competition and philanthropic donations. And probably most importantly collaborate at institutional and departmental levels on cultivating a feedback and action culture where student and staff voices are listened to and acted upon.

Donna Hurford works as an educational developer at the University of Southern Denmark where she provides courses and consultancy for lecturers and leaders on a wide range of teaching, learning and assessment issues. She specialises in inclusive education with a focus on addressing bias. Donna recently co-wrote ‘Bias-aware Teaching, Learning and Assessment’, a professional development book for higher education leaders and lecturers on developing awareness of bias and strategies for pre-empting and mitigating their effects in university practices.


3 thoughts on “How are universities increasing student responses to national student surveys?

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