Students more satisfied than ever before

Most are happy with teaching but assessment is still a concern, reports Melanie Newman

Overall student satisfaction is higher than ever before, according to the results of the 2008 National Student Survey.

For universities in England, students' overall satisfaction rate rose slightly from 81 per cent last year to 82 per cent, while satisfaction scores in six specific areas, including teaching, assessment and academic support, also all increased.

Students are most satisfied with the teaching they receive, with 83 per cent reporting general satisfaction. But satisfaction with "assessment and feedback" remained lower than in other areas, at 64 per cent.

A total of 149 higher education institutions from across the UK took part in the survey, with almost 210,000 students taking part.

Minister for Students Delyth Morgan said: "The continued high level of satisfaction is a welcome testament to the quality of the teaching and learning experience in this country."

The National Union of Students welcomed the improved scores, but expressed concern that students taking higher education courses in further education colleges were less satisfied than their counterparts studying in universities. Only 58 per cent of students taking higher education courses in further education colleges agreed that their course was well organised and managed, compared with 71 per cent of those studying in universities.

The top UK satisfaction score of 96 per cent went to the University of Buckingham, a private institution. Vice-chancellor Terence Kealey said: "This is the third year that we've come top because we are the only university in Britain that focuses on the student rather than on government or regulatory targets. Every other university should copy us and become independent."

Bishop Grosseteste University College scored 92 per cent, up from 87 per cent in 2007. Principal Muriel Robinson said this was a result of listening to students. "We take what they say very seriously and we act on what we hear," she said.

The University of Sussex was among the most improved institutions, scoring 86 per cent, up from 78 per cent in 2007. Vice-chancellor Michael Farthing said: "We identified the areas in which we were failing - library resources, advice and support to students, feedback - and got staff and students involved in producing action plans."

The GuildHE mission group, representing smaller and specialist higher education institutions, said the results showed that students were happiest when studying in institutions that paid them the most personal attention. Alice Hynes, chief executive of GuildHE, said common features among nearly all of the institutions with top satisfaction ratings were the presence of a collegiate environment that focused on developing the whole student, and a relatively small size that made it easier to give students personal attention.

As it did last year, the University of the Arts London came bottom of the satisfaction league, with 63 per cent. Will Bridge, deputy rector, said: "The student experience remains at the heart of what we do, and we will continue to work with the Students' Union to identify ways to improve."

Anglia Ruskin University's overall satisfaction rating fell eight percentage points in a year to 66 per cent. Paul McHugh, director of student services, said the university's internal surveys of postgraduate and undergraduate students had "always been at odds with the NSS" but said that this year "the disparity was greater than ever". "For example, 76 per cent of our students would recommend Anglia Ruskin to a friend while only 6 per cent would definitely not; these figures are a puzzlingly long way from the NSS's overall satisfaction score," he said.

Southampton Solent University's overall score fell from 76 per cent in 2007 to 68 per cent. A spokesperson said: "At a time when the university's courses are more popular than ever and graduate employment is at an all-time high, we are surprised and disappointed at our NSS score. We have no immediate explanation but we take our students' feedback - and the quality of their experience with us - very seriously and we will be looking into the matter."

Ruth Farwell, vice-chancellor of Bucks New University, which had a satisfaction rating of 68 per cent, said that some scores for teaching in specific departments were very high, but added: "We actively encourage critical debate ... and have not sought to influence the feedback given by students. We have had the university title for less than a year, and are part-way through a major campus redevelopment project. We are convinced that the changes will have a significant impact on student satisfaction in future years."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

Most-satisfied students
Institution 2005200620072008
University of Buckingham 949396
Royal Academy of Music95819094
The Open University95959594
University of St Andrews 929493
Courtauld Institute of Art100817493
University of Cambridge   93
University of Oxford  9292
University of East Anglia88898992
Birkbeck, University of London90919292
Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln88898792
University of Leicester89899092
University of Exeter86859191
University of Aberdeen  8891
Loughborough University88888991
Harper Adams University College9086 9190
Aberystwyth University 87 90 90 90
St George’s Hospital Medical School 86 8087 90
Institute of Education83  80 90
University of Kent 86 86 88 90
University of Sheffield 86 8487 89
The tables show the percentage of students, full and part time, who “definitely” or “mostly” agreed with the statement: “Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of my course.”

Least-satisfied students
Institution 2005200620072008
University of the Arts London  63 6463
Anglia Ruskin University 78 75 74 66
University College for the Creative Arts 66 65 65 67
Leeds College of Music  0 53 68
Southampton Solent University  72 76 68
Bucks New University 71 73 68 68
Leeds Metropolitan University 75 72 68 70
Writtle College  81 77 71
London Metropolitan University  67 70 72
University of East London   76 73
University of Westminster 74 74 74 73
Birmingham City University72 76 7474
Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts    75
Thames Valley University  67 73 75
Manchester Metropolitan University 76 74 78 75
London South Bank University   80 75
Middlesex University 68 7272 75
University of Huddersfield 83 80 75 76
University of Wales, Newport 80 78 73 76
University College Falmouth 79 69 78 76
To allow a comparison with previous years, only the responses of students actually taught in the institutions concerned are included. Those taking the institutions’ courses, but registered at partner further education colleges, are not included. NHS students are not included. See www.hefce.ac.uk/learning/nss/data/2008

How students rated specific areas in England
 2007 NSS2008 NSS
 % reporting satisfaction
The teaching on my course8283
Assessment and feedback6264
Academic support7173
Organisation and management7173
Learning resources8081
Personal development7778
Overall satisfaction8182

FOREIGNERS FLOCK TO STUDY IN UK

The UK continues to be an attractive destination for foreign students and is second only to the United States overall, says the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) annual Education at a Glance report.

The UK has the sixth-highest number of science graduates per 100,000 employed in the 25-34 age group, ahead of Germany and Japan.

The UK's high degree-completion rate resulted in a supply of graduates above the OECD average, despite average levels of enrolment.

The OECD reports that the UK is unusual in that the proportion of new higher education entrants is highest in humanities, art and education. In most countries, the majority of students study social sciences, law and business.

Universities UK, however, said the report showed that the UK remains below average for public investment in higher education, investing 0.9 per cent of gross domestic product.

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