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321,000 students can’t be wrong. This is the number who completed the 2014 National Student Survey last year. This represents a 71% response rate. A high rate of response. Results from the 2015 National Student Survey were just released last week and its reported over 300,000 students took part. So what does this mean if you are choosing where to go and want to know where to study? I am not really sure.

It does show that students are being seen and treated as consumers and encouraged to have a customer mindset, which on first glance is a positive thing. But is that what further education is all about? Are final year undergraduate students able to judge the value of this investment yet. Do the multiple-choice questions add up to a reliable indicator for prospective students. Did people do this just to make the constant email reminders stop?

A high ranking is very important to the institutions for all sorts of reasons, in particular it is likely to form a part of the teaching excellence framework. “This is significant since the NSS results are likely to figure as a key measure in the teaching excellence framework, to be used to decide which institutions will be allowed to increase their tuition fees for 2017-18,” Chris Havergal, Times Education Supplement

One of the many comments on the Guardian newsfeed points out “What we like typically bears little relationship with what we need”. I can relate to this, I like watching HBO box sets whilst snacking on crisps whereas I need to take some exercise and eat more salad. Is satisfaction the right measure?

Other comments point to students being told to give good ratings because it is important to have attended a highly ranked institution. It is certainly makes sense that students leaving have more to gain by being positive about their experience, it represents three years of their lives and an investment they hope will pay off for years.

Perhaps I am too cynical. As a side note this made me think about the likelihood of me, or anyone I was at University with, completing such a form back in the day. Students must have changed a lot and perhaps as responsible consumers of learning outcomes, deliverables wrapped up in a degree they want to make sure that their voice is heard and noted for the greater good of those who come after them.

It always feels good to come top of anything, and as a consumer you always want to know that you made a good choice when you buy or invest in anything. So I guess that these indicators help people to feel reassured in some way. But what do the results really tell students weighing up where to go

The questions are easy to understand but when you combine them to get to the results what do they actually mean. What is the difference between somewhere ranked No1 and somewhere ranked No 6. Does it predict a future experience? Does it help you to know what your actual course will be like? As with unit trusts students should be reminded that performance can go up as well as down and that past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Learning is a very personal experience. A specific student working with a specific tutor in the future. A University experience is so personal that any stats need to be treated with caution. You don’t really know what you need from a ‘University’ as a whole but you probably do know what you need from a course, from the teaching style, from the place you will live in for three years.

To make a really great choice about your University experience I recommend that you look within yourself first and reflect on who you are, how you learn, what you are passionate about and that you choose where you study based on what is important to you.

Create your own criteria, and then research carefully. After all this is a large investment you are making in time and money. And don’t forget you could always get some experience first and invest in your learning or a your degree later.

More details about the NSS 2015 can be found here 

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