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Around a half of students now see themselves as customers of their university – new ComRes survey

21 June 2017

​A survey by ComRes for Universities UK has found that around half of undergraduates now consider themselves as a customer of their university.

The survey of more than 1,000 students revealed also that they place a high level of trust in their university compared with other sectors.

The survey report looks at the implications of these attitudes for universities and policymakers ahead of the establishment of the new Office for Students (OfS), the regulator for the English higher education sector from 2018. The Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA) now also issues guidance to universities across the UK about their consumer law obligations to undergraduate students.

The survey of students found that:

  • Around half of undergraduates say they regard themselves as a customer of their university (47%), while the other half say they would not (53%)

  • Students placed a high level of trust in their university. Four-fifths of students (79%) value the relationship they have with their university and 87% say their university treats its students fairly, indicating high levels of trust across the higher education sector

  • Three in five (62%) of undergraduates say that their university cares about their best interests, second only to the proportion saying that an NHS doctor cares about their best interests (73%)

  • A high proportion of students (80%) said that personalised advice and support are among the top three things they want from their relationship with their university

  • 91% of those who said that their course is good value for money also said they value their relationship with their university

  • Student perceptions of value for money are based on what they expect to get out of their studies, particularly employment, as well as their personal experience of studying

  • Students recognise that course changes may be necessary or beneficial, but want universities to communicate these changes up to a year in advance

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK said: "Following the shift to fees and loans-based funding, value for money has become a high-profile issue in higher education.

"What is clear from this survey is that students want a personal relationship with their university, rather than the type of engagement they associate with being a 'customer'. The research shows that students view their relationship with their university as unique. They value a personalised and collaborative relationship, rather than a superficial consumer transaction. While students have clear expectations of their university, they also expect to shape their own experience.

"The aim of this survey was to understand how students currently perceive their relationship with their university and how this compares with other customer relationships. This is an area where universities have worked hard, and it is particularly positive to see students having high levels of trust in their university, in comparison with other sectors.

"The challenge for universities will be to ensure that market competition and the development of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) contribute to the enhancement of teaching practice and learning outcomes in the long term."

Notes

  1. The survey report: Education, consumer rights and maintaining trust: What students want from their university can be found here

  2. ComRes interviewed 1,019 full and part-time university undergraduate students in the UK online between 12 and 19 January 2017. Data was weighted to be representative of all UK undergraduates by year of study, gender and university type. 

  3. Although the OfS will regulate English institutions only, the findings and recommendations of this report are also relevant to the wider UK sector. Consumer rights legislation and the guidance previously issued by the CMA applies to universities across the UK. Similarly, the funding councils of the constituent nations of the UK should also have an interest in protecting and supporting the unique relationship between students and their university.

  4. Universities UK is the representative organisation for the UK's universities. Founded in 1918, its mission is to be the definitive voice for all universities in the UK, providing high quality leadership and support to its members to promote a successful and diverse higher education sector. With 135 members and offices in London, Cardiff (Universities Wales) and Edinburgh (Universities Scotland), it promotes the strength and success of UK universities nationally and internationally. Visit: www.universitiesuk.ac.uk

Key Contacts

Jo Hindle

Jo Hindle

Head of Media
Universities UK

Luke Lambert

Luke Lambert

Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK

Clara Plackett

Clara Plackett

Senior Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK

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