Each year, the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey shows the universities that shine in the way they cater for students, with familiar faces cropping up time and again. Yet this year, in a time of rapid change for higher education, the top of the table has mirrored the sector’s upheaval.
The University of East Anglia, a member of the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities, has emerged in top place overall in 2012, up from sixth last year, and three institutions have made it into the top 10 for the first time.
According to Mia Lorenz, associate director at YouthSight, the specialist youth and student market research agency that runs and validates the survey for THE: “This year has seen more movement in the top 10 than usual.”
The University of Bath, affiliated to no university mission group since leaving the 1994 Group last October, is the highest new entrant at six. York St John University and Lancaster University followed at places nine and 10, while the universities of Glasgow, Aberystwyth and Southampton all exited the top 10.
Differences between scores at the top are small, but this year across the survey there was increased movement, with more institutions moving between the top, middle and bottom thirds of the table and jumping by at least 20 places since 2011.
Lorenz suggests student opinion may be reflecting the “tumultuous” changes filtering through higher education, with factors that may previously have been taken for granted being reassessed.
“Possibly students are being more critical because they feel the system is becoming more commercial,” she says. “It’s not just the incomers with high tuition fees who are not yet captured in the survey, but everyone is starting to re-evaluate the student experience.”
The survey was based on the views of 12,000 students across the country, taken between October 2011 and July 2012. Participants were asked to rate their institution, based on a seven-point scale, against 21 criteria, ranging from campus environment and student welfare to helpfulness of staff and class sizes.
Despite increased movement in the table, in 2012 the methodology remained the same as in previous years. Although the total number of students sampled decreased, as in previous years the number of institutions each returning more than 100 responses, a more useful figure for survey accuracy, increased slightly.
This year’s results show the University of Oxford remains a leader in student experience, up from fourth last year to second.