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In the 2009 National Student Survey (NSS), the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, achieved a 100% satisfaction score, up from 87% in the previous year. In 2010, the satisfaction was 96% amongst our science students but down to 75% for social science students. Despite this variability, in regard to the curricula and professional support given to students, little if anything had changed.
The NSS was introduced by HEFCE in 2005 as part of the quality assurance framework. The aims of it are to promote improvements in universities by making measures of service delivery available to prospective students and, by so doing, help inform student choice.
However, the ability of the NSS to meet these aims has been questioned. Roger Brown, Professor of Higher Education Policy at Liverpool Hope University, has identified what he calls The Information Fallacy, suggests that the conditions permitting effective comparisons between subjects, courses and institutions are missing. A recent article in the Times Higher Education magazine indicated that prospective students are not seeking out the information (Attwood, 2010).
Nevertheless, the current government have signalled an expansion of the sorts of data published from the NSS, disseminated via unistats.direct.gov.uk and incorporated into comparative league tables. It is therefore an appropriate time to reflect on our own experiences at Bristol, on the positives and the negatives that have followed from the NSS, the structural changes we have made to enhance the students’ experience, and to ask, “can we ever meet their expectations? Should we even try?”