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Using National Student Survey scores to improve student satisfaction

In 2020, the National Student Survey (NSS) was completed by 70% of final-year students across 407 higher education institutions. The student satisfaction score produced from the findings of this survey covers a range of academic areas, including receiving feedback from tutors, library facilities, personal development opportunities, and more.

NSS scores are as important to prospective students as entry requirements, league tables, location, and courses. By comparing NSS and Graduate Outcome scores with other universities - as many institutions do with academic performance – weak points and opportunities can be highlighted to work on improving future scores and improve attraction for the next intake of students.

By becoming more aware of strengths and weaknesses, universities can maximise their results by avoiding certain optional questions in the survey, which can be added alongside the mandatory 27 questions.

However, NSS scores can easily be swayed by a high cost of living, stressful commutes, or relationships with tutors. Staff satisfaction, which can be negatively affected by high-pressure environments, has also been found to have a direct impact on student satisfaction. Experiences are also different across subjects, and students are often unable to compare experiences as most students only attend one university.

With such a large percentage of the student body participating in the survey, universities currently have access to rich data but it can be difficult to make peer comparisons and extract usable insight. All student data can be used to improve the student experience, so what can be done with NSS data?


Using the data

Once the NSS data is received by the university, it can be compared to universities with a similar number of students, number of tutors, survey response rate, or overall NSS score. This comparison can highlight threats or opportunities, while also highlighting key competitors. The data can also be viewed in dashboards by NSS.

When analysing student satisfaction, segmentation is key. Satisfaction rates vary across universities and courses, so a deeper understanding can only be obtained by discovering which segments are experiencing higher/lower levels of satisfaction. Institutions should also be compared by using segmentation, as it gives a clear indication of where the university sits in comparison to the rest of the industry. This can be done by using stats such as teacher to student ratio, or the percentage of lower-income or privately educated students.

Once universities have been put into segments, and NSS scores have been compared within the groups, universities can start to identify potential causes of lower/higher satisfaction rates and begin to find solutions – which will be unique to each institution.


How much a student enjoys their time at university has an impact on their grade, course participation, attendance, and employability. Student satisfaction is equally as important as graduate outcomes, grades, and university facilities – an unhappy student is unlikely to succeed at any university, while a happy student can flourish at any university.

Alumni have the potential to be the greatest spokespeople of an institution”, and so alumni success and satisfaction is critical when aiming to improving student attraction and admissions.


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