The art of joy in short supply at creative colleges, NSS shows

Buckingham tops the table in the annual student satisfaction survey. Hannah Fearn reports

August 19, 2010

Art colleges are struggling to satisfy their students, with the UK's National Student Survey revealing that four of the five unhappiest student bodies are at creative institutions.

The University of the Arts London has the least-satisfied students for the second year running, with 62 per cent saying they are content with their course - a drop of 1 per cent on last year. The University for the Creative Arts, the Glasgow School of Art and Ravensbourne, along with Thames Valley University, follow close behind.

The private University of Buckingham has the most satisfied students, with 95 per cent stating that they are happy with their degree course. Buckingham also topped the table in 2008 but last year dropped out of the top five.

St Mary's University College, part of Queen's University Belfast, received a 94 per cent satisfaction rating, putting it in second place.

St Mary's does even better in a Times Higher Education ranking, which calculates a grade-point average across all questions answered by students. It comes top, followed by Buckingham in second place, while the University of the Arts comes bottom followed by Glasgow School of Art.

Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of Buckingham, said that the results, published this week, highlighted "our lack of complacency about our performance over the past five years. During this period student expectation has increased, as has the awareness by other universities of the importance of caring for students."

Nigel Carrington, rector of the University of the Arts London, said improving the student experience was the institution's "number one priority". "We have instigated a number of major changes but we know they may take time to show results," he said.

Overall satisfaction in England rose from 81 per cent in 2009 to 82 per cent in 2010. The highest ratings went to university teaching, which once again achieved a score of 83 per cent satisfaction in England, and 84 per cent in Wales.

The only area where satisfaction fell in England was in learning resources, down to 79 per cent from 80 per cent. Assessment and feedback has always been the area students are least happy with - but scores are gradually creeping up, climbing from 65 per cent to 67 per cent in England.

Craig Mahoney, chief executive of the Higher Education Academy, said: "The fact that satisfaction levels regarding assessment and feedback have slightly increased since last year is good news, and testament to the great work that institutions are doing.

"It is also indicative of institutions' responsiveness to student requests. Effective assessment methods and timely and thorough feedback are vitally important to students. We know that institutions are working hard to improve these scores."

This year, about 252,000 students responded to the NSS, an increase of more than 30,000 participants on 2009, and a response rate of 63 per cent.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, warned against complacency.

"Nearly a third of students are not satisfied with the assessment and feedback they receive, more than a quarter are not satisfied with organisation and management, and a further quarter are not satisfied with the academic support they receive," he said.

"There is much room for improvement and this year's survey is a wake-up call to university vice-chancellors."

For a breakdown of NSS scores by institution, see the attached Excel document on the right-hand side of this webpage.

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