28 March 2019 • HOP, Hein Cuppen
University of applied sciences: National Student Survey 2019 is unusable
The universities of applied sciences will no longer cooperate with the National Student Survey (NSS) 2019. They believe that the results are no longer reliable due to mistakes related to the new privacy legislation. The research universities see it differently and will continue.
Since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into force in May 2018, educational institutes are no longer allowed to provide information that can be traced back to individuals to third parties without consent. This has serious consequences for the NSS, the satisfaction survey commissioned by the Studiekeuze123 website and which is also used by the Higher Education Study Guide and Elsevier Best Studies.
Previously, the pre-filled details from 200 to 300 thousand surveyed students could be traced back to individuals and to the degree programme they followed. But in the 2019 survey, students have to give their consent first. Mistakes were made with that, which makes the NSS unusable this year, states The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences.
Pull down menu
What went wrong? When completing the survey, students could not always click on their degree programme in the pull-down menu meant for that purpose. “This year, there were students here who indicated they were following a master’s degree programme that we don’t even offer”, said Board Chairman Paul Rüpp of Avans University of Applied Sciences. “And about ten per cent of our students didn’t even fill in which degree programme they are following.” Last year he urged The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences to ask students for their consent in advance to allow institutions to pass on their details, but there wasn’t time for that according to Studiekeuze123.
Consent after the fact
“When it became clear things had gone wrong, Studiekeuze123 was approached to discuss possible solutions,” said Rüpp. “One thing they considered was to ask students for consent after the fact, but we didn’t think that’s the right way to go about it. That is why, as universities of applied sciences, we eventually decided to concentrate on 2020, because we do recognise the importance of the NSS.”
Studiekeuze123 spokesperson Gert-Jan Bos recognises there were shortcomings in the survey and understands The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences’ point of view. Yet he believes the mistakes can be rectified.
It has been agreed with the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) that the survey will last an extra two weeks and that student details will still be linked to the right degree programmes. That can occur, for instance, using email addresses, but only for the students who have not indicated they wish to remain anonymous. The university’s data protection officer will check to see whether this takes place in accordance with the GDPR.
Spokesperson Bart Pierik from the VSNU confirms that the research universities are committed to using the 2019 survey. “Over 200,000 students have already completed it. We trust that it is still possible ensure its reliability.”
The student organisations reacted with disappointment. “We are angry”, said Carline van Breugel, Chair of the Dutch National Student Union. “The universities of applied sciences have thrown in the towel too quickly. We place great importance on the privacy of students, but in our opinion a solution can still be found for the 2019 survey.”
Tom van den Brink, Chair of the Dutch National Student Association, also regrets the decision of the universities of applied sciences. “We have to do all we can to ensure the 2020 NSS is once again available to research universities and universities of applied sciences. As far as we are concerned, the minister should arrange a legal basis for it.”