University suffers steep NSS ranking decline

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The 2014 National Student Survey revealed a significant slump in student satisfaction as Lancaster dropped from 15th in the rankings to 32nd. Having been in the national top ten in 2012’s NSS results, this highlights a significant decline regarding the University’s recent history in the survey.

The survey uses student satisfaction gauged from a series of questionnaires to students in order to calculate the success of further education establishments. Following the decline from 10th to 15th, one of the University’s key priorities announced before University last year was to reclaim its position in the NSS’s top 10. Not only was this not achieved, but the overall position of 32nd shows an obvious discrepancy between the University’s aim for the year and the reality.

One key aspect of the NSS is the impact it has on university league tables for the coming year, thus meaning that the University’s target of remaining a top 10 university in national rankings may have suffered a significant blow.

The drop in rankings to 32nd in the NSS results is however only a one percent decrease in the overall satisfaction rating of students. The University again reached its benchmark for satisfaction, reaching an overall satisfaction of 89 percent compared to 90 percent in 2013 and 91 percent in they previous year.

Thus the university’s aim to re-enter the top 10 for NSS results is not as unrealistic as its current 32nd position in the rankings may suggest, with just a two percent increase plausably enough to heavily favour Lancaster in the rankings.

Speaking to SCAN, this was a key issue that Ben Harper (CCO Education) felt must be addressed when analysing the recently released figures. “In the senate meeting, the university discussed how difficult it is to interpret the student satisfaction ratings. These ratings often don’t correlate with the scores on the previous themes.

“I wouldn’t say this invalidates the satisfactions score but it does point to other reasons for it, some of which need to be investigated much further; qualitative feedback within the NSS is an important part of that. However, it is worth noting that despite a drop from 15th to 32nd in the rankings, this only represents a 1% drop in the score from the previous year. Perhaps it isn’t as bad as it initially sounds.

Before Senate on September 24, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Education) Sharon Hutty described improving this situation as a ‘priority’ for the University. Harper furthered this point, highlighting what need be done to improve the University’s position. “If we wish to increase NSS student satisfaction scores then we need to focus on many aspects. We need to ensure a variety of module choices for all courses (something which students always seem to favour), we need to support all of our faculties and not allow some to be or feel under valued and we really need to tap into those aspects of dissatisfaction within departments that are not represented by the NSS question themes, for example, perceived employability prospects and potential.”

Despite the negative downward trend in recent results for the survey, the overall response from students had greatly increased from 66 percent in 2012, to 67 percent in 2013 and 72 percent in 2014. This correlation suggests that a greater number of people were responding, but also that these were responding due to negative aspects of their experience.

The aims to achieve a top 10 standing once more are clearly ambitious, and Harper highlighted to SCAN that one impediment to the University’s success in the NSS was its inconsistency. “Our current rate of decline within NSS rankings is worrying. A target of top 10 is reasonable considering our league table positions and aspirations, but upon reflection of the results, it is apparent that since 2012 many subjects have suffered a decline in their NSS rankings, whilst many others stagnate. There is also a great disparity in the rankings between departments, such as geography being 1st for overall satisfaction but psychology is at 104th… Not great news for myself as I study Psychology.  Not only overall satisfaction but ‘Assessment and feedback’ and ‘Personal development’ are themes which the University is not performing well in with scores of 72nd and 81st respectively.”

One of the key benefits of success in the NSS is, according the statements at Senate, the influence it has upon prospective students and their opinions on the University. Harper thus felt it is important for the University to improve student satisfaction in order to entice future students.

“Lancaster university receives lower application numbers than its nearest competitors and whilst this in itself is another matter, we cannot afford to let them drop further as a consequence of poor NSS results; this is a real possibility with NSS having a weigh-in on the league table positions.”

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