Student satisfaction scores have only a minor impact on the demand for university courses, a recent study has found.
A paper looking at data from the National Student Survey (NSS) and on applications to undergraduate degrees finds that while universities’ student satisfaction scores do have “a small statistically significant effect” on applications, the effect of changes in scores on demand, from year to year, is “quite small”.
An institution moving from the bottom of the scale (around a 65 per cent NSS satisfaction score) to the top of the scale (around 95 per cent satisfaction) results in a degree course gaining only about seven more applicants for every 100 it already receives, according to Stephen Gibbons, professor of economic geography and environment at the London School of Economics (LSE) and co-author of the report.
The study, entitled “Student satisfaction, league tables and university applications: evidence from Britain”, finds that the impact of NSS scores is mainly attributable to the influence on a university’s position in other subject-specific league tables, which include student satisfaction as one of its indicators, such as The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It suggests this reflects the “greater salience of league tables” in that they are “visible, readily available and, on account of the way in which universities and subject-departments are compared on an ordinal rank scale, easy to understand”.
Even so, it claims the change in demand related to the Good University Guide, which it focuses on in the study, is “not large”.
“A 10 percentile move up the table rankings increases demand by around 2 per cent,” it says. “One possible explanation is that students already have well-developed knowledge about aspects of product quality which are meaningful to them in higher education markets and therefore the impact of additional information is correspondingly limited.”
The research also finds that the impact of quality indicators in league tables is strongly influenced by the number of providers in a particular subject or geographical area; rankings have more impact on applications for subjects taught at a greater number of universities.
“High-ability candidates are also more responsive to league tables, possibly as a result of their wider choice set,” it adds.