Student Experience Survey 2017: Build the facilities and the students will come

New kid on the block, Harper Adams University, outshines established institutions with its great teaching and outstanding amenities, finds Jack Grove

March 23, 2017
Student with book in Leeds University library
Source: Leeds University

Harper Adams University tops this year’s Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey, just over four years after gaining full university status.

Students rate the Shropshire institution highly in all 22 aspects covered by our poll but it wins particular praise for the quality of its teaching, its campus facilities and its strong community atmosphere.


More on the 2017 Student Experience Survey

Student Experience Survey 2017: the results
Student Experience Survey 2017: methodology

Student Experience Survey 2017: hear from students at the top institutions
Student Experience Survey 2017: down on the farm at Harper Adams
Student Experience Survey 2017: expectations are high for learning resources
Student Experience Survey 2017: Sheffield Union holds key to satisfaction
Student Experience Survey 2017: home comforts on campus


The specialist agricultural institution, where students learn the latest farming skills and techniques on the university’s own commercial farm, earns top marks for the quality of its industry connections, with students undertaking sandwich courses that require them to spend a year in industry.

Vice-chancellor David Llewellyn describes his institution’s placing in the SES as a “brilliant result”, saying it is “fantastic to see that students rate the university so highly”.

He praises the work of the students’ union, which helped to secure high scores for social life. “We are based in the countryside so the students’ union puts on a very active programme to help students get to know each other,” says Llewellyn.

He is pleased that students appreciate Harper Adams’ strong connections with industry, which see leading scientists, farming professionals and other agricultural experts regularly visiting the campus to teach cutting-edge techniques.

Some businesses have also relocated their research and development divisions to the university, including the £4 million Food Innovation Centre, which was opened on campus by Dairy Crest in May last year.

“It’s not so quiet in the countryside,” says Llewellyn. “For instance, we are exploring how drones and robots might be used further in farming, thinking about how we might grow a crop of barley without a single human setting foot on the ground.”

With the fate of European Union farm subsidies uncertain after last June’s Brexit result, students are also being encouraged more than ever to think about how innovative, cost-saving measures might be introduced to help UK farming, says Llewellyn. “We are trying to get the message across to students that knowledge is advancing and they must keep up with the newest techniques from across the world.

“Brexit will change many things in farming, so we need to produce professionals who are capable of applying the latest techniques learned in the classroom to practical problems,” he adds.

T his year’s second-placed institution is Loughborough University, which came first last year. As might be expected, Loughborough takes number one position for sport, but is also ranked highest for its extracurricular activities, high-quality facilities and on the question of whether students would recommend the university to a friend.

The competitive spirit of Loughborough’s elite student athletes is a key driver of the university’s success, with competition extending into other aspects of university life, such as charity work, organisation of student events and running of student start-ups, believes Robert Allison, the institution’s vice-chancellor.

“When some students see these results, they will say ‘Why didn’t we come first?’ and I don’t think that is a bad thing,” says Allison.

“We have competition between halls of residence in sport, but also for enterprise, where we have now created a new sabbatical officer role for business,” he adds.

In third place is the University of Sheffield, which topped the survey in 2014 and is ranked first for its students’ union.

Sheffield is also ranked joint first for its library provision and opening hours, alongside Brunel University London, the University of East Anglia, Falmouth University, Keele University, Lancaster University and the University of Oxford.

While its new £81 million Diamond study hub, which is open 24 hours, gains most attention, its smaller £23 million Information Commons library also plays a key part in the student experience, says Wyn Morgan, Sheffield’s pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching.

“The Information Commons has helped to increase the amount of group study space and we are always trying to respond to the changing learning needs of students so they engage better with their studies,” he says, adding that the student’s union’s work in creating “opportunities beyond the classroom” contributed massively towards the “life-changing experience” enjoyed by students.

In fourth place is the University of Leeds, whose high scores across the board include excellent marks for its facilities, campus environment and outstanding students’ union.

In fifth spot is the University of Surrey, up from joint 26th place last year. Jane Powell, vice-provost (education and students), says she is “delighted” that the results reflect the positive conversations that she has had on campus with students, who speak positively about not only their education “but broader quality of life issues, including sports and social facilities, support systems and the sense of community”.

“This is built on the close working relationships between staff and students in all areas, and we are incredibly proud of the work we do with our student representatives to ensure they get the very best experience while at Surrey,” says Powell.

At sixth in our table is Falmouth University, with the specialist arts institution finally breaking into the THE top 10, having narrowly missed out for the past three years.

Falmouth finishes just ahead of the more illustrious University of Oxford (7th) for student satisfaction, though the UK’s oldest university is rated number one when it comes to high-quality teaching staff and interesting lectures.

Oxford’s traditional rival, the University of Cambridge, drops out of the top 10 altogether, where it had been a mainstay since 2009. It now sits in joint 29th place, alongside the University of Manchester.

Newcastle University continues its fine run in our student experience survey, finishing in 8th place, with table-topping scores for good social life and outstanding marks for academic provision.

Another new entry into the top 10 is Queen’s University Belfast, which caps an excellent run of year-on-year improvements in student satisfaction to take 9th spot, owing to strong scores for its library, students’ union and the atmosphere on campus.

Its performance is indicative of a tremendous year for Northern Ireland, whose other higher education institution, the Ulster University, was the most improved non-specialist university, rising 37 places to 61st overall as work continues on its £250 million Belfast city centre campus, which is due to open in 2019.

Keele University is another strong performer, taking 10th place as it did in 2016, just ahead of Edge Hill University (11th) and Bangor University (12th).

The University of Bath, which topped our table in 2015, falls to joint 13th alongside the University of St Andrews – another top 10 fixture over the years – while the University of Dundee (joint 15th), which was number one back in 2012, is also overtaken by other institutions.

Meanwhile London universities continue to prop up our table, with eight of the bottom 12 institutions on our list based in the UK capital, including City University, London (116th), the London School of Economics (119th) and London South Bank University (120th).

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