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Are students satisfied with their courses? Interpreting the statistics

23 May 2016
William Hammonds

William Hammonds

Policy Manager
Universities UK
students at library computer desks

A notable justification of the government's proposed reforms to the higher education sector is the view that students are not sufficiently satisfied with their studies that seems to be based on a questionable interpretation of the 2015 HEA-HEPI student survey.

This survey found that 28% of students believed their experience exceeded their expectations and just 12% saying it was worse than expected (12%). This left 49% of respondents reporting their experience was better in some ways and worse in others.

Clearly, the satisfaction of students with their studies is central to the success of the sector. A good university places the interests and outcomes of students at the heart of what they do. As part of our work on public information and teaching metrics, we have produced a new report looking at the literature on what matters most to students in their studies. So how well are universities doing in the eyes of students?

Course satisfaction, 2010-2015 

Overall, the National Student Survey (NSS) reported that 86% of students studying in the UK are satisfied with their course, which is at a near all-time high. International students are also more likely to recommend higher education in the UK than in any of the other major English speaking countries that are the UK's main competitors for recruitment.

Overall satisfaction 

Teacher and lecturer characteristics tend to matter most to students, particularly the skill, accessibility and enthusiasm of teaching staff. Teaching and learning methods, including the design of programmes, is a close second. Students place a high priority on interaction in classes which is viewed as being beneficial for academic development, social capital and transferable skills.

National Student Survey, 2015 

Universities frequently assess student satisfaction with feedback and assessment. In 2015, 77% of NSS respondents (HEIs in England) reported that assessment and marking criteria are fair and 67% reported that feedback has helped them clarify things they didn't understand. International students gave UK institutions a score of 3.03 for performance feedback, slightly below Canada and the US, and in learning support it scored second from the top, just behind the US.

NSS feedback and marking: 2010 v. 2015 

Students are also positive about learning facilities such as library support, which is also heavily weighted aspect of their study. The 2015 NSS found that 88% of students found the library resources and service "good enough for [their] needs" and that 89% felt they "have been able to access general IT resources" when needed; in 2010, these figures were 81% and 84%, respectively. UK universities also ranked top for physical and online libraries, laboratories, and learning spaces against international competitors.

NSS learning resources: 2010 v. 2015 

Universities challenge students socially and culturally. University can help build networks that can be valuable throughout a career, while also fostering skills related to leadership, teamwork, creativity, and problem solving. The 2016 Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey indicates that, on average, students are very satisfied with the extracurricular activities on offer at their universities: on a scale of 1-7 they rated these 5.7. They are also very satisfied with student support and welfare services, another highly weighted direct opportunity, ascribing these 5.6 out of 7.

Times Higher Survey, 2016 

A 2015 Universities UK survey found that 83% of students are very/quite satisfied with their careers services; similarly, international undergraduates in the UK rated their career services 3.26 out of five, higher than New Zealand, Australia, Canada or the US. In addition Industry connections, ascribed high level importance by respondents to both the Times Higher and NSS/QAA research, score, in the Times Higher an average 5.7 out of 7.


So what does cause students to be dissatisfied with their studies? A course being poorly organised is the number one reason (33%). This is followed by the volume of contact hours, next at 31%; support for independent study (29%) and teaching quality (29%).  However, overall satisfaction with the course tends to outperform the extent students report that a course is well organised and running smoothly, 77%. This suggests overall satisfaction is based on a combination of factors.

In the new funding and fees environment, it is essential that data on student experience remains timely, robust and relevant. Students need information so that that they can make informed choices about where to study. Institutions also need information to review and innovate in their teaching and learning practices.

Government and the public want to be assured that the sector delivers value to students, wider society and the economy. It is important that we consider how this data continues to reflect student's priorities continues to reflect student's priorities and longer term objectives.

Leave a Comment

K M Enayet Hossain
K M Enayet Hossain says:
3 June 2016 at 13:28

Thanks a lot for insights, excellent read. Regards - Total Student Care (TSC)

K M Enayet Hossain
K M Enayet Hossain says:
4 June 2016 at 01:54

Some encouraging statistics!

dr. punit goyal
dr. punit goyal says:
25 June 2019 at 06:24

i found this post really helpful thnaks for sharing this post 

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