You Spin Me Right Round: A guide to writing your NSS press release

Publication of this year’s National Student Survey results has resulted – as is the case every year – in a display of masterful creativity from communications and press teams across the country.

I’d like to pay homage to this work and to compile some hints and tips for anyone new to this summer-time game. There’s still just enough time to play before hitting confirmation and clearing week.

There is every good reason to spin the story, to place one’s university in the best possible light and to achieve the most desirable headline. Where there’s scope for being ‘first’, such as within a nation, region or mission group then that will take a prominent position in the press release. It’s also clearly a delight from a smattering of universities to point out that they’re above rivals: coming out better than Oxbridge is a particular favourite.

If there isn’t a ‘first place’ available outright, then there’s the opportunity to eliminate those not seen as fair competition, and you get to determine what fair means. With the Universities of Buckingham and Law, both ‘private’ providers, having performed particularly well, one can deem it appropriate to make fair comparison only against “publicly funded” institutions or the more loaded “mainstream.”

And if that hasn’t got rid of the requisite numbers of institutions ahead in the table, it’s fairly normal to exclude “small and specialist” institutions and focus solely on the “multi-faculty,” “broad based” or “full service” players. Bye bye high-scoring Courtauld. If you hail from a small and/or specialist institution, you have the opportunity to make a comparison excluding the big beasts: don’t miss out on being top amongst the conservatoires.

With St Andrews and Aberystwyth having done well this year too, you may also have scope to go for an England-only comparison. Just for clarity, obviously.

If you really want to push the boundaries, you can additionally set an arbitrary limit on the numbers of students for your own league table. One institution deemed it appropriate to allow comparison only with those universities with a survey population of at least 500. Out goes Bishop Grosseteste, but only just, as its survey population is exactly 500. But that may just be a coincidence.

If those handy hints haven’t provided you with the ranking you were hoping for, you could also just make your statement a little vague and pick your own group against which to measure your performance. One university tautologically gave its ranking as “when compared against comparator institutions.” Quite.

And finally, if you really really want to push it, it’s possible to twist the overall ranking position into ‘highest score’. That means that everyone with 97% is in place one, 94% place two and so on. With multiple institutions listed jointly for each score, because they’re presented with zero decimal places, you can rocket up the table. Who’s going to pay that much attention anyway?

Here’s a rundown of some of the claims on offer and, please note, this is not a comprehensive league table. Surely everyone’s entitled to their caveats?

InstitutionOverall satisfactionClaim
University of Buckingham97%1st
University of Law97%Equal 1st
Courtauld Institute of Art94%4th
Keele University94%1st
University of St Andrews94%Equal 1st
Aberystwyth University92%Top 10
Bishop Grosseteste University92%2nd
Harper Adams University92%2nd and 7th
Liverpool Hope University92%Top 4
University of Dundee91%8th
University of East Anglia91%Equal 3rd in England
University of Exeter91%9th and 11th
Lancaster University91%Top 10
University of Lincoln91%11th
University of Essex90%Equal 8th in England
University of Kent90%
4th
University of Leeds90%
Equal 2nd in Russell Group
Newcastle University90%
12th
Swansea University90%
14th
Bangor University90%
Top 15

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