Five ideas… for increasing your institutions NSS response rate

Wednesday 28-01-2015 - 15:50

This is a guest blog by Jon Berg, Chief Executive at Teesside Students’ Union.

With competing live priorities such as annual officer elections, Go Green Weeks and the like, the second term of university always proves to be a busy and testing period for even the most well-oiled students’ union. So there’s no wonder many unions don’t find the time to fully realise the potential of the National Students’ Survey in shaping their parent insitution's future. Teeside University Students' Union's CEO Jon Berg, however, has five ideas on how SUs can work around this. 

1. It’s all about the students

From the students’ point of view, the NSS is a survey they will complete so make sure you are familiar with the questionnaire and the student body. These few months are really about getting enough student responses that all the courses’ scores can be published externally and used internally. At Teesside SU, we helped our university to increase its response rate from 56 per cent to about 70 per cent by looking at courses with 15 or more students that haven’t reached Ipsos-Mori’s threshold and asking what could be done to encourage those students.

2. Work with your university

The NSS marketing plan should be a team effort so that every final year student gives their feedback through the NSS. There will be people in the university (and in some unions) who have sweated the NSS data so they know which courses struggle to reach the quota, trends in question scores, and in the sections like ‘learning and teaching on my course.’

Ask the university team about the promotional plan and where you can help. Agree when, where and who, then do your best for your students so they know that the NSS matters. At Teesside we look at courses with slower response rates in the NSS and we get out to them.

3. Tell students why the NSS matters

Whether you use ‘make your mark,’ ‘we’ll act on your feedback,’ or another approach, make sure the students know they will be listened to and that their scoring and comments are confidential.

The NSS is the biggest survey of its kind and is widely used, so your SU should be using it to prioritise campaign activity. At Teesside we think our top 10 score of 82 per cent on Q23 for the SU is down to the work we’ve done on the first 22 questions. Be convincing when you tell the students that the SU and university take the scores and comments seriously, and they will help to improve the university. Explain the 1-6 scoring but do not advise them on what scores to put.

4. Don’t be tempted to cheat

You’ll want to tell final year students about last year’s scores and that the SU and university are great so there are clear NSS rules about not coaching the students’ scoring. ‘Please fill in the NSS - I love my university,’ ‘remember how great our university is as you fill in the NSS’ or ‘good NSS scores for this course will help you get a graduate job’ are all wrong and you should blow the whistle to university management if you think this is happening.

5. Listen and learn

While going out to promote the NSS across the university you will probably meet many students that don’t use the SU. You’ll find out about the university and meet front line staff like lecturers and administrators - remember them and make notes as you learn about the university and its many different students. Above all be positive and flexible, and write down new ideas for next year’s plan!

Is your union looking for more ways to increase your institution’s NSS response rate? NUS has put together a guide to promoting this year’s NSS which you can download here


Features, Quality Students Unions

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