National Student Survey 2019: overall improvement masks falls

Some churn in standings sees a number of institutions drop dozens of places

July 3, 2019
Source: iStock

The overall satisfaction of students with higher education in the UK has risen slightly but a number of universities have seen large falls in their ratings, according to the latest results of the National Student Survey.

About 330,000 students at 400 universities, colleges and other providers completed the 2019 NSS, about 10,000 responses higher than last year and representing 72 per cent of those eligible to complete the survey.

The response rate was up 2 percentage points on last year, which brings it back up to the level seen before a 2017 student boycott in protest against the teaching excellence framework, which uses NSS metrics.

However, responses at a small number of institutions this year still failed to surpass the 50 per cent response rate threshold needed to publish results, including the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Overall, among larger higher education providers, the University of St Andrews came out top again this year for overall satisfaction, with the percentage of students saying that they were satisfied with the quality of their course increasing to 95 per cent.

But there were large shifts for some universities further down the list. Those seeing big drops included Leeds Trinity University, whose satisfaction percentage fell 10 points to 77 per cent, a drop of about 100 places in the table of larger providers.

Others falling several places on overall satisfaction included the University of East London, whose score declined from 85 per cent to 80 per cent; the University of Lincoln, which slipped out of the top 20 universities with its satisfaction score falling 4 percentage points; and the University of Buckingham, which dropped out of the top 10 despite being one of the highest rated in previous years.

Examples of institutions moving the other way included the University of Dundee, whose overall satisfaction score rose almost 3 percentage points to put it in the top five, and the University of West London, which climbed from the bottom half of the table to the top 20 with an 8 percentage point rise.

The London School of Economics also saw a big increase, 7 percentage points, in its overall satisfaction score to 78 per cent, although this still placed it towards the bottom end of the overall table for larger providers.

Overall, 84 per cent of UK students reported being satisfied with the quality of their course, up from 83 per cent last year.

The survey also continued to show much lower scores on student feedback. In England, just 62 per cent thought it was clear how student feedback had been acted on, for example.

However, some of the lowest scores came when students were asked whether they felt their course was well organised and ran smoothly: just 54 per cent believed this to be the case in the bottom 10 per cent of English providers.

There were also very low satisfaction ratings for students’ unions, with only 57 per cent of students at the average higher education provider believing their union “effectively represents students’ academic interests”.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said the numbers on students’ unions “should be a wake-up call for the new student union officers who are taking up their posts up and down the UK, [and] for the leadership of the National Union of Students”.

Meanwhile, he said that although it was good that overall student satisfaction was rising, the NSS was still “very limited” for assessing the whole student experience because it surveyed only final-year students and did not ask about contact hours and workload.

“In my view, it is time for the survey to be completely revamped. Until this happens, there will continue to be no official data on how hard students really work,” Mr Hillman said.

National Student Survey 2019: top 10

Institution Score (% satisfied) Change from 2018 (percentage points)
University of St Andrews 95.49 1.67
Aberystwyth University 91.12 1.30
Conservatoire for Dance and Drama 90.79 0.23
Loughborough University 90.47 2.41
University of Dundee 90.37 2.69
Harper Adams University 90.07 0.71
Royal Agricultural University 89.37 7.64
Keele University  88.87 −0.68
University of York 88.66 4.05

National Student Survey 2019: bottom 10

Institution Score (% satisfied) Change from 2018 (percentage points)
Ravensbourne University London 68.12 −4.53
Glasgow School of Art 68.6 1.81
University of the Arts London 71.16 −1.12
SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) 72.17 2.28
Plymouth College of Art 73.08 −3.6
St George’s Hospital Medical School 74.55 −2.82
University of Bradford 76.43 −1.41
Bath Spa University 76.45 −4.33
Leeds Trinity University 76.68 −9.92

Note: Does not include alternative providers or institutions with fewer than 1,000 undergraduates.

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