'Sexy' courses trail traditional in student poll

September 9, 2005

Students are more satisfied with traditional academic subjects than new "sexy" vocational disciplines such as media studies, suggests the first national student satisfaction survey.

Figures leaked to The Times Higher reveal that degree subjects such as philosophy, history and the sciences are among those rated most favourably by students.

Students on philosophy courses report the highest median "overall satisfaction" levels, with 4.3 out of a maximum five points, closely followed by history and archaeology, physical science, biology and English-based studies, all of which have a rating of 4.2.

Subjects such as mathematical sciences and European languages - increasingly spurned at school level - rate highly among students in higher education, both registering a median score of 4.1 out of five.

These results contrast with those for the ten subjects rated least satisfactory by students.

Art and design has the lowest median "overall satisfaction" rating of 3.7 out of five, closely followed by media studies, computer science and technology with 3.8. Tourism, transport travel and business, communications and information studies, and management each score 3.9.

"Perhaps the days when vice-chancellors could guarantee they could get bums on seats and fill all their places by putting on more and more courses such as media studies are over," said Andy Pike, national official at lecturers' union Natfhe.

"These results are perhaps a sign that vice-chancellors need to think long and hard about whether to continue to push those subjects."

Christine Geraghty, chairwoman of the management committee of the Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Association, said a gap between students' career expectations and the reality might explain the lower levels of contentedness.

"Media studies courses have lost their Mickey Mouse tag through high levels of graduate employment and other elements," she said.

"But while we don't say that if you do media studies you will get a job in media, it is possible that some students expect that."

Professor Geraghty, who holds the chair in film and television studies at Glasgow University, added: "It is possible that one of the issues might be sufficient investment in the subjects - especially in terms of access to equipment.

"In the case of art and design, and media, there is a strong hands-on element. Universities may not be sufficiently looking at this when developing new courses," she said.

Complex picture

Yet the overall satisfaction results of the survey, published for the first time in The Times Higher , mask a more complex picture of students' feelings about their degree courses.

The survey posed a series of questions to students covering different aspects of degree courses. These were: teaching on courses; assessment and feedback; academic support; organisation and management; learning resources; and personal development.

What will intrigue lecturers and admissions tutors is that some subjects fare well in some categories while performing relatively poorly in others.

One of the lowest ratings produced by final-year students, for example, concerns veterinary sciences, where respondents rated the subject only 2.9 out of five for assessment and feedback provided on degree courses.

Yet veterinary sciences tops the satisfaction ratings for academic support offered during their study (scoring four out of five).

Medicine and dentistry scores most highly - 4.3 out of five - in terms of personal development. But medics and dentists are among the worst performers, when it comes to assessment and feedback, scoring three out of five.

Philosophy, theology and religious studies students are most likely to find their teachers inspirational, giving this aspect of their courses 4.2 out of 5 on average.

Overall lessons

The results also offer some more general lessons for lecturers.

Students were least happy with the quality of their "assessment and feedback" - no subject scored more than 3.8. They were also critical - across most subject areas - of the "organisation and management" of their courses.

In this category, art and design was rated at only 3.3, while media studies and tourism, transport and business received 3.6.

Academics will be more pleased with the ratings for teaching on degree courses, with most subjects scoring more than four out of five in this category.

For Alan Smithers, professor of education at the private Buckingham University, however, the generally high satisfaction levels are excellent news for advocates of higher top-up tuition fees such as himself.

"It is good news that the general level of satisfaction is so high," he said.

"By and large, they are receiving their education as a free good and it could be that they still want to have these experiences - even if they have to contribute more towards the cost."

Professor Smithers said that next year the sector would get the first indication of how students react to the emerging market in higher education, when top-up fees of £3,000 are introduced.

"But these figures mean that it is now more conceivable that they could be raised even higher shortly," he said.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

HIGHS AND LOWS

The teaching on my course

  • Most satisfied: philosophy, theology and religious studies (4.2)
  • Least satisfied: computer science (3.7)

    Assessment and feedback
  • Most satisfied: nursing (3.9)
  • Least satisfied: veterinary sciences (2.9)

    Academic support
  • Most satisfied: veterinary sciences (4.0)
  • Least satisfied: art and design (3.6)

    Organisation and management
  • Most satisfied: human and social geography (4.0)
  • Least satisfied: architecture, building and planning (3.3)

    Learning resources
  • Most satisfied: physical science (4.2)
  • Least satisfied: politics (3.8)

    Personal development
  • Most satisfied: medicine and dentistry (4.3)
  • Least satisfied: mathematical sciences (3.7)
    •  


      Happy customers: student survey results

      Subject area

      No of institutions

      No of

      students

      in sample

      Median

      response

      rate

      Median

      satisfaction

      score

      (out of 5)

      Philosophy, theology and religious studies

      30

      2,9

      65%

      4.3

      History and archaeology

      66

      13,343

      66%

      4.2

      Physical science

      45

      6,230

      67%

      4.2

      Physical geography and environmental science

      39

      3,511

      72%

      4.2

      Biology and related sciences

      61

      9,757

      68%

      4.2

      English-based studies

      82

      13,957

      68%

      4.2

      Human and social geography

      29

      2,890

      72%

      4.2

      Civil, chemical and other engineering

      17

      1,785

      64%

      4.2

      Mathematical sciences

      30

      3,705

      64%

      4.1

      European languages and area studies

      42

      6,087

      72%

      4.1

      Medical science and pharmacy

      24

      3,095

      69%

      4.1

      Medicine and dentistry

      17

      4,576

      65%

      4.1

      Veterinary sciences

      3

      321

      76%

      4.1

      Law

      66

      13,549

      63%

      4.1

      Politics

      50

      5,747

      63%

      4.1

      Agriculture and related subjects

      17

      1,733

      67%

      4.1

      Combined

      9

      9,529

      63%

      4.1

      Other subjects allied to medicine

      38

      3,930

      63%

      4.0

      Sociology, social policy and anthropology

      72

      11,778

      66%

      4.0

      Sports science

      38

      4,920

      65%

      4.0

      Education studies

      43

      5,299

      68%

      4.0

      Other languages and area studies

      15

      1,361

      74%

      4.0

      Nursing

      9

      1,297

      58%

      4.0

      Psychology

      87

      13,640

      70%

      4.0

      Performing arts

      66

      8,078

      66%

      4.0

      Economics

      41

      5,911

      64%

      4.0

      Finance and accounting

      42

      4,672

      62%

      4.0

      Teacher training

      13

      1,843

      64%

      4.0

      Social work

      34

      4,755

      63%

      4.0

      Business

      67

      18,075

      60%

      3.9

      Electronic and electrical engineering

      2,604

      62%

      3.9

      Management

      51

      7,830

      60%

      3.9

      Communications and information studies

      3,010

      66%

      3.9

      Mechanically based engineering

      43

      4,799

      61%

      3.9

      Tourism, transport, travel

      17

      1,792

      62%

      3.9

      Technology

      18

      1,921

      58%

      3.8

      Computer science

      81

      19,831

      60%

      3.8

      Media studies

      45

      5,976

      65%

      3.8

      Architecture, building and planning

      26

      4,332

      60%

      3.8

      Other creative arts

      40

      4,323

      63%

      3.8

      Art and design

      58

      17,293

      62%

      3.7

       

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