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The National Student Survey

The 2020 National Student Survey (NSS) will run from 3 February 2020 to 30 April 2020 at York. The survey is organised nationally (with a national start date of 6 January) and is aimed at undergraduate students in their final year. This means all University of York undergraduate finalists are asked to take part.

The results help us to identify areas where we need to make further progress to enhance our students’ teaching and learning experiences. 

We ask all eligible students to take part and all student-facing staff to help publicise the NSS throughout the duration of the survey. The following information is to help staff and students to understand more about the NSS and offers advice on promoting the need to complete the survey.

Information for staff

The survey is commissioned by the Office for Students and is conducted by Ipsos MORI. Undergraduate finalists studying at UK universities will be asked for their views on:

  • the quality of the teaching and assessment on their course
  • personal development and academic support they have experienced
  • organisation and management within their department
  • the quality of, and access to, learning resources.

There is a standard set of 27 questions, plus an additional open text box. We have also opted to ask additional questions about careers, social opportunities, student safety, welfare resources and facilities, employability skills and environmental sustainability.

While the survey is running it can be accessed on the NSS website.

After the survey, students on first degree programmes will also be invited to take part in an OfS survey about their intentions following graduation.

The response rate

Our response rate in 2016 was 72 per cent, but in 2017 it dropped to 67 per cent and in 2018 it dropped again to 66 per cent. We are pleased to report that it rose to 68 per cent in 2019, and we hope to see it rise to over 70 per cent in 2020. The higher the response rate, the more representative and meaningful the results.

About the results

The results were previewed in August. As in past years, analysis and commentary on the results were sent to departments prior to their publication on the DiscoverUni website.

We use the NSS results, together with other feedback from students, staff and external examiners, to highlight where departments and the University are doing well and to inform plans for quality improvement.

The results from the main questionnaire are published on DiscoverUni and some questions are also included in the Key Information Sets (KIS) which are published on departmental web pages.

Promotional materials

The official NSS promotional materials for 2020 are now available:

Consult the Staff wiki (staff login required) for advice on image sizes to use for the web. Images can be resized down as required, but please do not resize up as you will lose image quality.

Department case studies





Response rate



We primarily targeted students via the Student Voice Committee (The Department Rep & Course Reps encouraging their cohort to complete it), email footers, social media channels (Twitter and Instagram) and notice boards around the Department. While we did send some emails from our Engagement Team email address, our Director for Students primarily emailed all students eligible for the NSS. Some emails were tailored to the degree programme and focused on the value of the feedback, how useful it has been and highlighted ways that we have implemented changes.





Response rate



Our approach was based around clear communication and incentives. The importance of response rate was discussed with students at every opportunity, through the usual liaison channels and in-lecture shout-outs at the start of the Summer Term by the HoD and DHoD (Teaching). Our incentive scheme had two elements:

  • a pledge to donate £200 to a charity of the students’ choice if the response rate exceeded 65 per cent and to add a further £50 for every 5 percentage points above
  • the chance (with minimum probability 1 in 10) to win a £10 voucher for catering on campus.





Response rate



We began with a pep talk in the first dissertation lecture of the term, telling them about the NSS and how seriously we take their feedback. We also made a laptop available next to the departmental office for a couple of weeks, which created a visible reminder of the NSS and provided quick access to the survey. More generally, we put in a lot of work on communication with students throughout last year, talking about how we responded to their feedback.

Language and Linguistics




Language (average)






Every student who filled in the survey could collect a free chocolate duck from the office. Also, the department offered free post-exam drinks for all finalists if the final response rate was 75 per cent or higher.

Inappropriate influence

What is inappropriate influence and why is it important to ensure that there is no undue influence in promoting the NSS?

All those involved in the NSS should be aware of the guidelines regarding inappropriate influence. Staff can remind eligible students to complete the survey but they have a responsibility to ensure that their students are encouraged to give their honest feedback on their student experience in the NSS.  However, students should not feel that they are being monitored or encouraged to answer the survey in a particular way.

Staff must not:

  • explicitly instruct students on how to complete the survey, eg "I recommend that you select agree or mostly agree"
  • link responses to the NSS as having an impact on the value of students' degrees or their chances of employability
  • link responses to the NSS as having an impact on the institution’s position in league tables
  • inaccurately represent the response scale to students ie defining the "neither agree nor disagree" as a negative response
  • compare the NSS scale to other scales with different purposes ie assignment marking schemes
  • look over students' shoulders when they complete the survey
  • require students to provide evidence that they have completed the survey
  • complete the survey on behalf of students.

It is crucial that local survey promotion is neutral and that:

  • students are targeted equally so that each eligible student is given a chance to express their views on their student experience
  • students feel free to give honest feedback about their experiences without their responses being influenced by their institution
  • students must not be encouraged to reflect in their answers anything other than genuine perceptions of their experience.

Any promotional materials that are produced in addition to those provided by Ipsos MORI must be checked for suitability in accordance with NSS guidance. A senior member of staff should sign-off all materials before they are used.

Where a concern or allegation is raised, it will be investigated by the Office for Students. If an investigation were to find that promotional activities and marketing materials had resulted in inappropriate influence, whether intentional or unintentional, the integrity of the NSS data could be called into question.

The OfS (in partnership with the relevant funding partners) could take action to suppress the affected NSS data for the institution. This would mean that no NSS data would be published for the affected courses at the institution in the specific year and, as a result, it would not be available for marketing activities, learning enhancement work or inclusion on Unistats, the Office for Students website etc.


Organising Department-based NSS incentives or prize draws

This short guide provides information for departments in response to regular queries about what in-house incentives and prize draws it is possible to organise to raise the profile of the National Student Survey. The University does not organise an institution-wide incentive or prize draw, but allows departments to offer incentives and draws as part of their own promotional activities.

The questions are mandatory on the NSS, so to complete the survey students must answer every question and submit their responses (selecting a score from the 1-5 scale or the ‘NA’ option). Completion of the questionnaire generates a confirmation email from Ipsos who administer the NSS. This confirmation email can be used to administer any prize draw or incentives.

It is important that any promotional activity abides by the guidance on avoiding inappropriate influence and that it is organised in line with the MRS Regulations on prize draws and incentives. The suggestions below should meet these expectations. Prize draw entry cannot be based solely on completion of the full NSS questionnaire, though an incentive can be given for full completion of the survey.

Prize Draw Option

Promote to students that all final year undergraduates will be entered into a prize draw to win x prize(s) if the Departmental NSS response rate exceeds y% once the survey has closed and the final response rate is notified to the Department.

Ensure that it is clear when the draw will take place, by whom and how winners will be able to claim their prizes.

It is important also to explain, and ensure staff know, that prize winners have the right to remain anonymous. The draw must also be based purely on chance – names out of a hat or a suitably robust IT program equivalent.

Incentive – Option 1

Promote to students that all final year undergraduates will be eligible to claim an individual token of appreciation if they fully complete the NSS and present the Ipsos NSS email they receive confirming their completion of the survey.

The confirmation could be presented in hard copy or by forwarding the email to a specified email account with restricted staff access – eg an admin account set up for the purpose with alias [DeptX] depending on the nature of the incentive. Incentives funded by the Department could be such as additional printer credit or a food/drink voucher for campus catering outlets.

It is important that students understand that presenting their confirmation email means the Department will know who has completed the NSS, but not what response they have given and students should be informed of who has access to the entries.

To reduce any possible connection between the students completing the survey and eventual results as could be inferred through claiming their incentive token, access to the names of those claiming must be restricted – eg to a couple of members of staff solely to administer the incentive (eg if needing to liaise with IT for additional printer credit) – if there is a need to produce a record at all.

Incentive – Option 2

Promote to students that all final year undergraduates will receive a collective gesture of appreciation if the NSS response rate exceeds x% once the survey has closed and the final response rate is notified to the Department. 

Such a reward might be, for example, an end of term social gathering, an ‘upgraded’ graduation celebration event or a free graduation cohort photo.

Incentive – Option 3

Promote to students that if the NSS response rate exceeds x% once the survey has closed and the Department is notified of the final response rate, the Department will make a donation of a set amount/ amount linked to the response rate to a specified charity or charities. 

For example, you might say you will make a donation of £x if the target is met or you will promise to donate £x per response received.

Final year undergraduates eligible for the NSS could themselves vote on which charity is chosen to receive the donation, thus involving course reps and students in the collective effort to ensure a high response rate. However, because of the University's charity status, only certain charities are eligible to receive University funds. If you decide to use this option, please contact or before communicating anything to the students.