National Student Survey 2024: universities improve across board

Students show rising levels of satisfaction with courses at UK universities

July 10, 2024
Close-up Shot of a Monitor With EKG Data. Male Athlete Runs on a Treadmill with Electrodes Attached to His Body while Sport Scientist Holds Tablet and Supervises EKG Status in the Background
Source: iStock/gorodenkoff

Improvements across every measure of the latest National Student Survey (NSS) show a “solid heartbeat” in UK universities despite current financial pressures, according to a regulator.

In one of the largest exercises of its kind in the world, just under 346,000 final-year students in the UK took part in the 2024 edition, answering 26 questions on issues including their academic experience, teaching and assessments, and institutions’ mental well-being services.

Scores went up across the board, with providers scoring highest in the learning resources category, which covers libraries, IT facilities, and equipment. A total of 86.9 per cent of UK students responded positively to questions in this area, up from 86.2 per cent in 2023.

Just 74 per cent of respondents gave positive answers regarding student voice, with particular concerns raised over feedback and whether it is acted upon by lecturers. However, this was still an improvement on the score of 71.9 per cent last year for the same issues.

John Blake, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, the English regulator that runs the UK-wide exercise, said this year’s cohort of final-year students had experienced “significant disruption” to their studies because of a range of factors, including the aftermath of Covid-19, while the sector has also faced “considerable difficulty”.

“We’re not remotely blind to the difficulties that students are experiencing but there hasn’t been a sort of shift in NSS outcomes there might have been if students were turning on HE,” he said.

“You can still see that students value HE, they value high-quality positive experiences, and by and large we’re seeing that continuation.”

The OfS, which is looking for a new chair following the resignation of Lord Wharton of Yarm this week, no longer asks students in England about their overall level of satisfaction with their course.

Campus resource: Should we be aiming for student happiness or student satisfaction?

But this figure is still available for other parts of the UK.

In Northern Ireland, 80.1 per cent of students said they were satisfied with their course, up from 79.7 per cent in 2023. The score improved from 77.1 per cent to 78.1 per cent in Scotland, and from 75.2 per cent to 79.8 per cent in Wales.

Mr Blake said the overall results showed that the student experience was on a “stable footing”, but cautioned that the sector must be aware that real challenges remain for both students and institutions.

“It’s really positive to get this solid heartbeat once a year that tells us that the patient isn’t declining, but I certainly wouldn’t want it to make us feel complacent about the challenges that are there.”

Meanwhile, a question on freedom of expression, which is asked only to students in England, also showed improvement. A total of 86.4 per cent of students in England said they they felt free to express their ideas, opinions and beliefs on campus, up slightly from 85.9 per cent in 2023.

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