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How can you improve the NSS response rate?

Three National Student Survey (NSS) Liaison Officers reveal their secrets and share their advice.

19 September 2014

The UCL National Student Survey (NSS) response rate jumped 12 per cent in 2014, resulting in UCL reaching its highest ever figure of 74 per cent.

To work out how, who better to ask then the university’s NSS Liaison Officers?

Having spent the last year working hard to encourage final year undergraduate students to participate, they know better than anyone what does and doesn’t work when it comes to boosting NSS response rates.

Judy Medrington, Academic administrator, UCL Institute of Archaeology

How did encourage NSS participation in your departments?
A photo of Judy Medrington

Lecturers encouraged participation.

We put up posters and flyers in the lifts and common room, and emails at intervals helped as well.

Informal conversations with individual students stressing the importance of this also helped.

What worked best and why?

Each year the Student Chair of our Student-Staff Consultative Committee (SSCC) emails all finalists to encourage them to participate. This has always been the most effective way of encouraging students.

What lessons have you learned for next time round?

Highlight the financial incentives – this year we were able to give all our finalists tote bags printed with UCL Institute of Archaeology 2014, which were very well received.

What advice would you give to others?

You should involve your students right from the start of their first year, and make them feel that they belong and are valued by the department as individuals. 

Ensure that they receive good, prompt, sympathetic support from their personal tutors and the administrative staff throughout their time at UCL.

Avoid hierarchical attitudes to students.


Karin Charles, Undergraduate Officer, School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS)

How did encourage NSS participation in your departments?
A photo of Karin Charles

This year we were lucky enough to have some money to award to our students if we reached the minimum 72 per cent response rate.

As SELCS has a large cohort, the money was substantial and was definitely an incentive for students to complete the questionnaire.

We promoted the NSS via our website and Moodle site, as well as asking SSCC reps and staff to spread the word.

We also set up cluster room times, allowing students to fill in the survey at dedicated times.

What worked best and why?

The cash incentive definitely helped us achieve our target.

Clear information about the kinds of questions that are asked, as well as an idea of how long it might take to complete, seems to have made the survey a bit more straightforward.

What challenges did you face?

Knowing how many messages to send was tricky.

Also, finding the right tone in our messages can be a challenge; short emails with links to further instructions on the website probably worked best.

Our cluster room sessions were poorly attended, so this is something we will need to rethink.

What differences have you noticed this year in terms of the emphasis on the NSS compared to previous years?

The NSS has obviously been promoted far more widely across UCL – the promotional posters, screen savers on computers etc have been very noticeable. This has been helpful to us.

What lessons have you learned for next time round?

We definitely will have to rethink how we encourage students to complete the survey.

Our cluster room workshops definitely did not work, and next time around it would be helpful to have more input from personal tutors. This is something we will start looking at this term.

What advice would you give to others?

I think that being clear with students from the beginning about what to expect, and how the survey works is crucial.


Andrew King, Programme Administrator, European Social and Political Studies

How did encourage NSS participation in your departments?
A photo of Andrew King

The financial incentive this year made a huge difference.

At a departmental SSCC, final year student reps suggested putting the money earned in the event of achieving a response rate of 72 per cent or higher towards the finalist leaving party.

In addition, the Head of Department agreed to add a further small amount if the response rate reached 90 per cent.

What worked best and why?

Certainly it was the financial incentive – students seemed very grateful about that, and even encouraged each other to complete the survey on that basis.

What challenges did you face?

I think the main challenge is knowing when to stop sending encouragement emails, because by the time that the majority of students have completed the survey, you don’t feel inclined for them to be bombarded with emails just because of the few that haven’t.

What differences have you noticed this year in terms of the emphasis on the NSS, compared to previous years?

Previously it was marketed as being beneficial to students of future years, and I recall that students often felt that they did not get anything personally out of completing the survey.

What lessons have you learned for next time round?

I hope that the financial incentive continues! And if so will promote the survey the same way as before.

What advice would you give to others?

I would advise asking the student reps what they think that the money could be best spent on and using that idea (if practical).

They are often in the best position to know what will encourage their fellow students to fill out the survey.