Two in five students at Luton University would not recommend the institution to a friend, according to documents passed to The Times Higher , writes Phil Baty.
An internal survey of students presented last year to a special meeting of Luton's academic board found that "only around 60 per cent" of students would encourage friends to study at the university - "and that this was about 20 percentage points below that at benchmark institutions".
The paper recommends that Luton take urgent action to address the issue in the run-up to the publication of the first national student satisfaction survey next year.
The higher education sector is waiting nervously for the publication of students' views on universities amid concerns that institutions will be forced to wash their dirty linen in public.
Luton has recently mounted a relatively successful public-relations campaign to counter its image of being a poor-quality university, despite the comments of Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial College London, that the university is "third rate".
The latest revelations that the problems are more than a question of external perception deal a new blow. The Luton survey findings emerged at an academic board meeting in April 2003 convened to discuss government plans to publish a national student satisfaction survey from summer 2005.
A report from a working group of departmental heads says: "The group noted that data produced as the result of a questionnaire by the university's marketing department indicated that only around 60 per cent of students would recommend the university to a friend... "Discussions with the students however, elicited a much more positive view.
The reasons behind this discrepancy warranted further investigation if the university was to be adequately prepared for the introduction of national surveys."
Les Ebdon, Luton's vice-chancellor, said: "We were one of the first universities to use student satisfaction surveys.
"Our student surveys have led us to invest heavily in the teaching environment. For example, last year we invested £5.5 million in a state-of-the-art media arts centre and more than £3 million on improving the IT infrastructure. These investments, as well as others across the teaching and learning areas, show that we take our students'
opinions very seriously."
He added that the university was ready for the first national student survey - which will take place in the spring term of 2005 for publication in the summer - because it had participated in the pilot.