Student feedback: How can international educators increase response rates?

“It is important not to over-survey students”

Where does the responsibility lie for universities improving teaching effectiveness and student learning within international higher education?

In an era of co-creation, meaningful change cannot be achieved without listening to students. Capturing, and effectively responding to the student voice, is so important to both the academic and wider campus experience. The issue is that many students are experiencing survey fatigue and response rates are often not as high or as representative as universities would like to support institutional enhancement.

In How to Increase Course Evaluation Response Rates, Explorance shares insight from global higher education leaders who have achieved an ‘uplift’ in levels of student feedback on evaluations and their tips for increasing response rates.

The University of Louisville, University of Newcastle Australia, UNSW Sydney, University of Minnesota, and Temasek Polytechnic join UK universities in sharing their practical guidance on survey strategies. Here are five things we learned:

Ask the right questions

Designing the course or module evaluation questionnaire is paramount as it is the foundational tool for gathering valuable student feedback that can drive meaningful improvements in the educational experience.

For some universities, questions are already very short, which is a major benefit when it comes to promoting the survey to students. For others, surveys may have as many as 200 questions which can take around 30 minutes to complete.

To develop and/or sustain a strong feedback culture, it is important not to over-survey students, so reducing the number of surveys or their survey length is an approach being used by institutions to uptick response rates.

Use in-class feedback

Academic leaders should block out time in their lecture/seminar for students to complete their evaluations – and, at the same time, use this as an opportunity to tell their students how they are going to use that feedback.

In-class evaluations ensure higher response rates, resulting in more comprehensive and representative feedback. It provides a strong platform for better understanding how things are working for students and creating a culture around listening and acting on the student voice.

Some institutions may only provide reports to staff once students receive their grades, so they know their feedback will not impact attainment.


For some institutions in our response rates guide, but not all, this has helped to improve response rates. 

Big budgets are not a necessity, and universities may instead look at clever and innovative prizes, such as offering access to facilities, activities, or other unique opportunities in order to entice students.

Involve teaching staff in suggesting prizes and students in selecting which prizes they are interested in. Tours and experiences, as well as annual free parking passes, annual gym memberships and campus food and retail vouchers, are just a few examples. 

Include staff in the journey

Academics, as the main touch points for students, play a key role in evaluation response rates – and taking 10 minutes out of a lecture or sending a direct email can help boost engagement.

Instructors should be encouraged to promote the survey, but their role can run much deeper than emails. For example, they can be involved in the strategy and planning of module or course evaluations, and the reports that go back to university committees. This demonstrates that the teaching staff’s views are respected and valued.

Also, universities should empower them to monitor survey response rates and follow up, if necessary, in scenarios where there is a target response rate to hit. Finally, they should be asked to use their module/course feedback to review their provision.

No single approach is enough

Typically, there is not one approach which will single-handedly increase response rates. It is more a combination of factors that come together and effect change to create a cultural shift, which may be the main objective for some institutions. 

From survey methodology, incentives and LMS/VLE integration, to pop-ups and in-class feedback, small changes can lead to big gains when it comes to increasing engagement and closing the feedback loop.

‘Finding the champions’ – administrators, instructors and students – who can drive the process on the ground helps to engage student feedback.

About the author: John Atherton is VP Sales EMEA at Explorance. On 16-17 April, Explorance is hosting a conference on Amplifying Student Voice in Higher Education at BMA House in London featuring UK and international higher education experts.