Satisfied - but students want more feedback

September 14, 2007

There's praise for teaching in survey but also a desire for more individual guidance, write Rebecca Attwood and Louise Radnofsky

Students are still less than satisfied with the feedback they receive, the results of this year's National Student Survey show.

While teaching received high praise, satisfying 82 per cent of UK students, just over half - 54 per cent - agreed that feedback had been prompt and had helped to clarify things they did not understand.

For the UK as a whole, students' views on assessment and feedback have improved by one percentage point since last year.

Staff received the highest accolade for their explanatory skills - 86 per cent of students agreed that they were good at this - and 82 per cent felt staff were enthusiastic about what they are teaching.

Overall, 81 per cent of UK students were satisfied with their experience at university or college.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the overall levels of satisfaction were testament to the hard work of university staff. But she said: "The massive class sizes that we now have in our institutions do make individual feedback much harder to deliver."

Welcoming the high satisfaction levels, a Universities UK spokesperson said: "Institutions take student feedback seriously - it helps to bring about change. HEIs will analyse the results of the NSS to continue improving provision for students, along with their own surveys and what they hear from the various channels within the institution."

For the second year running, the UK's only private university, Buckingham, tops The Times Higher' s league table - but it has found a new rival in Oxford, which enters in second place, just ahead of the Open University.

Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, attributes his institution's success to the fact that it is private. He said: "We are the one university whose sole customer is the student."

Sir Michael Bichard, rector of the University of the Arts, London, which received one of the lowest scores in The Times Higher 's survey, of 3.54 out of a maximum 5, said the university was "disappointed and surprised that the many positive steps we have taken to improve the student experience have not been reflected in the latest satisfaction figures".

Among individual departments, the most satisfied first-degree students are genetics undergraduates at Leicester - 99 per cent of them endorsed their teaching and they gave high marks in every other category, data from the Higher Education Funding Council for England shows.

Media studies at the new Cumbria University was the worst rated on overall satisfaction - just 15 per cent of students said they were satisfied with their course.

Most students unions, and the National Union of Students as a whole, have given the survey strong backing. But the students union at Cambridge University continued to urge students to opt out of the survey, arguing that the questions were "over-simplistic to the point of meaninglessness".

Melveena McKendrick, Cambridge's pro vice-chancellor for education, wrote to students saying it would be "a glaring omission for Cambridge to be the only university not to have its results posted along with those of other institutions when prospective applicants are making comparisons", but the university did not get enough responses to be included.

A spokesperson for the university said 91 per cent of Cambridge students who had responded to the survey were satisfied with their university experience.

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