Students satisfied - official

September 9, 2005

Students are overwhelmingly satisfied with their lecturers and their degree courses, according to the biggest-ever survey of student experiences, leaked exclusively to The Times Higher .

Philosophy and theology boast the most contented students, while art and design and media studies are among the disciplines in which students are least happy.

But the Government's flagship National Student Satisfaction Survey, due out later this month, shows that no university subject received an "overall satisfaction" rating of less than 3.7 out of 5 - equivalent to 74 per cent.

Academics will welcome the views of some 170,000 final-year students, spanning 41 subject areas. No subject scored lower than a median 3.7 out of 5 for "the teaching on my course". Students were also broadly satisfied with the academic support, learning resources and their own personal development.

They were less happy with the quality of assessment and feedback - most subjects scored 3.5 or less and one was awarded just 2.9.

The lecturers' union Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers said the results were a tribute to the hard work that ordinary lecturers were putting in.

Sally Hunt, AUT general secretary, said: "Once again, staff have proved that the quality of their teaching remains high despite the often impossible conditions they work under."

The £2 million survey, backed by the National Union of Students, is the first of its kind in England. Final-year students were asked to rate their experiences in a number of categories and to give an overall satisfaction rating on a five-point scale.

A breakdown by universities will be released on September 20 - and this may make less comfortable reading for some institutions - but The Times Higher has obtained the full national figures for every subject area.

Philosophy and theology students are the most satisfied, rating their courses 4.3 for overall satisfaction, and the most happy with the quality of their teachers, awarding them a score of 4.2.

Robin Cameron, chair in philosophy at Aberdeen University and former secretary of the British Philosophical Society, said he was delighted.

"Students do not undertake degree courses in philosophy lightly, so they are committed to their subject," he said. "We have small departments with an open-door approach."

Less satisfied were those on art and design and media courses, which were rated 3.7 and 3.8 respectively. Christine Geraghty, chair of the Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Association, said her subject and art and design courses could have suffered because of a gap between students' job expectations and reality and underinvestment in equipment.

Alan Smithers, professor of education at the private Buckingham University, said the results would help the push to raise top-up fees above £3,000. "Students are getting a very good experience, and they will still want that even if they have to contribute more," he said.

But Ms Hunt said that students' expectations would only rise with higher fees: "This may well mean their satisfaction levels diminish unless universities use this additional income to ensure that staff are adequately rewarded."

The Higher Education Funding Council for England and the NUS would not comment on the results.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk   

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