The National Student Survey – the Results

Once again – Assessment and Feedback has proved to be the University’s Achilles heel, following the release of the results for the National Student Survey (NSS).

The results show what final year students at Southampton University thought of their experience here, and for Assessment and Feedback, the University is in the bottom 20% of all Higher Education Institutions (HEI). You can view the data yourself by clicking the link above, searching for Southampton and clicking on the NSS data tab.

The results, in a lot of cases, are used to partly put together the National League tables that appear in the papers. In the Guardian, 40% of the score for main topics such as Assessment and Feedback are based on the NSS scores, with the remainder coming from other surveys and reviews (in the Times, it only makes up around 17% of the score – which is why you can get very different looking tables).

How reliable is it? Well for data to count toward the overall score, each programme has to have at least 50% of the students on that course fill out the questionnaire – so the data is mostly reliable, but not necessarily representative of every course at Southampton.

Assessment and Feedback is dramatically worse than other areas of the NSS – on average, just 61% of respondents agreed with the 5 questions about feedback in the survey, asking about how clear the marking criteria is (65% agree), the fairness of marking (73%), feedback timing (59%) and feedback quality (58%). The worst mark was 52% agreement for the statement “Feedback on my work has helped me clarify things I did not understand”.

In comparison, on areas of Overall Satisfaction, Lecturers, Timetabling, Facilities and Personal Development, there was over 80% average agreement – which is better than the UK average and roughly in line with other Russell Group Universities.

But feedback isn’t just an issue at Southampton – it’s a national problem, something that Sabbs and Universities alike are trying to address across the country; the Russell Group average was 63%, and the UK average stood at 68%. Vice Chancellor Don Nutbeam has already contacted members of the University about his concerns with feedback, and SUSU will be working with the University to try and improve feedback on the whole, whilst pin-pointing bad practises.

But why is Assessment and Feedback perceived to be so bad? Southampton has a policy document on Feedback and Assessment – but the problem, from a University perspective, is making the policy trickle down and having the lecturers follow the guidelines. Not receiving your work back within 4 weeks, or only seeing the words “Good work” for feedback, simply shouldn’t be happening at all – if it is, your marker is breaching University policy; tell your Course Rep, Academic President or myself, so that we can take it up with the University.

However, there is also an issue of some students not necessarily recognising what feedback can be; it isn’t just the comments on a graded piece of work – but all the steps in between setting the question and marking. Answering questions, pointing to literature or other helpful resources, and acting as a soundboard for ideas are all forms of feedback; it all helps students perform better in assessment.

The University problem of not following policy is definitely the bigger of the two issues – and I am working with the Academic Presidents and relevant staff in the University to create a Feedback policy that lecturers will understand and abide by – but we also need to recognise that we need to think about what feedback is, before we point fingers at bad practice.

These results underline how vital it is that we have a strong Student Representation – and you can help improve Assessment and Feedback by becoming a Course Rep at the start of next year. Details of elections for Course Reps will be released closer to the start of term.

In the meantime, this is the number one academic issue at the moment, and I will be doing my best to try and improve the quality of feedback for all students.

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