One third of undergraduates paying higher fees in England believe their course represents very poor or poor value for money, while students rank cutting tuition charges among their highest priorities.
The findings – from the Higher Education Policy Institute’s UK-wide Student Academic Experience Survey 2014 – show that overall 86 per cent of respondents were fairly or very satisfied with the quality of their course.
But on students’ views of value for money, the survey, a joint project with the Higher Education Academy published on 21 May, finds “considerable variations across the UK nations, with a striking 70 per cent of [students at] Scottish institutions believing they have received at least good value for money compared with 41 per cent in England”.
It adds that 83 per cent of respondents from Scotland in effect faced no fees.
At English universities, 33.1 per cent of first- and second-year students “now believe they have received poor or very poor value for money, compared with 18.3 per cent in 2012”.
Asked to give their top three priorities for institutional expenditure, 48 per cent of students said “reducing fee levels” – a proportion that rose to 55 per cent among first- and second-year undergraduates in England.
The other clear priorities ranked in their top threes by students were “having more hours of teaching” (35 per cent), “reducing the size of teaching groups” (35 per cent), “better training for lecturers” (34 per cent) and “providing better learning facilities” (34 per cent).
The lowest priorities ranked in top threes were “better pay for staff” (12 per cent), “better buildings” (11 per cent), “better sport or social facilities” (11 per cent), “giving academics more time for research” (7 per cent) and “better security on campus” (2 per cent).
Nick Hillman, Hepi director, said: “If universities want more of their students to think they are getting good value for money at £9,000 or thereabouts, they should do more to explain where their fees currently go.”
He added: “The results reveal a potential gap between the priorities of students and academics, as staff pay and time for research score very low.”
Each year, the Hepi survey has revealed a wide disparity in the number of hours of study required on different courses, and this year is no different.
“Students in disciplines allied to medicine study for 50.9 hours a week on average, while students on courses in mass communications and documentation study for an average of 26.7 hours a week,” says the report.
And “students at Russell Group universities generally have a slightly higher number of timetabled sessions”, it adds.
On average, undergraduate students in their first and second years have 14.2 contact hours per week during term time and complete 14.3 hours of private study on top, the report says.
This year’s survey also incorporated Office for National Statistics data on national well-being, which found that students were less content than the general population.
When asked “How happy did you feel yesterday?”, on a scale of between 0 (not at all) and 10 (completely), 72 per cent of the general population chose between 7 and 10 compared with only 62 per cent of full-time students.
The Hepi survey was conducted in February and March this year, drawing 15,000 respondents from YouthSight’s Student Panel.