The University of Sheffield is rated second in the 2017 Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey when it comes to “societal experience” for students. Anna Goldman, a first-year French and Hispanic studies student, talks about just how much there was to do upon arriving at Sheffield.
“Sheffield’s social opportunities have massively improved my confidence; particularly in sport. At school, PE was incredibly elitist: you were either on the A team or a waste of everyone’s time. I was certain that university would be exactly the same, if not worse.
“However, during Freshers’ Week, I stumbled upon what are called ‘Resident’s Life’ sport sessions, which were free and designed especially for beginners. There is a huge range: I could try everything from quidditch to Ultimate Frisbee. I decided to give zumba a try as I had done it previously. On arrival, everyone was friendly, welcoming, and not the least bothered about what level of fitness you were. The focus was on participation and enjoyment. I went home from my first session grinning from ear to ear, and I knew I was hooked. I went on to try yoga, fitness class, bouldering, spinning and beginner’s mountain biking.
“This city has felt like home from the beginning. It has the leafy feel of a large village, while still retaining the conveniences of a city. Sheffield has it all: diversity, culture and stunning surroundings. Deciding to study here is a decision I will never regret.”
Although accommodation is one of the lowest-rated categories overall, some universities are trying to turn that around through an accommodation overhaul. The University of Reading ranked in the top 10 for accommodation satisfaction in the survey, and is investing in its halls of residence. Second-year English literature student Vienna Michaels discusses what she loves about her accommodation there.
“My experience of studying at the University of Reading has been wonderful. When I started my first year, I was apprehensive about moving away from the comfort of my family and friends.
“Then I arrived on campus and got settled in to halls. I stayed in accommodation that was on campus, and I had to cater for myself. I stayed in Child’s Hall, which was premium accommodation, and I certainly wasn’t let down.
“The kitchen was an adequate size for the 10 of us in the flat, with amazing views out on to the greenery by the lake. All the rooms were en suite and very comfortable, with a four-foot-wide bed, a large desk and a pinboard to put all my photos of my family and friends.
“I felt at ease as soon as I had unpacked all my things and packed the fridge and cupboard in the kitchen full of food. There was plenty of space for all of us to have a cupboard each, a shelf in the fridge and freezer space. Living with 10 other people sounds as though it may be cramped, but we had more than enough space.”
The University of Oxford’s academic experience is rivalled by few other universities, having come second in the academic experience category. Alannah Burns, a second-year philosophy and German student at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, discusses the course structure and the support that she is offered while studying.
“The University of Oxford has eight-week terms, and for the first two terms of my second year I have had two essays a week for half a term, and one essay a week for the other half, then one translation a week, with some essays and worksheets written in German, plus a few presentations. Diving into such a workload is daunting at first, but one gets used to how long an essay takes, making the workload manageable.
“In my first year, the university got everyone on my course to the same level, which meant that we all covered the basics of German grammar and language. In second year, I chose from a varied and exciting range of finals papers.
“In my experience, tutorials are hour-long classes with either just myself and a tutor, or with up to two other students and a tutor. My tutorial essays are independent explorations of philosophical texts or German novels set for an essay. The tutorial is my chance to discuss mistakes in my essay, or things I do not understand, so I leave a tutorial much more confident in my knowledge than before. The report readings at the end of each term with my personal tutor allow me to discuss my academic progress or problems straightaway. The university has been very supportive through every stage of my studies.
“The support the university offers students whose studies are affected by personal problems or an intense workload is fantastic, as the tutors are very understanding. The university has its own counselling service and colleges run welfare events, and so on. Time is available for extracurricular activities with excellent pastoral support from the university.”
Loughborough University consistently ranks highly for its sporting facilities and for its union facilities. Luke Starr, a sport and exercise science student from Loughborough, says that the students’ union deserves just as much recognition as the sports services.
“When someone thinks of Loughborough University, sporting success and sports facilities often spring to mind. But there’s one facility on campus that towers (metaphorically speaking, as it’s only two storeys) over any of the sporting arenas: Loughborough Students’ Union.
“I still can’t quite fathom the transformational properties of this building. From the delightful hustle and bustle of cafes, shops and acoustic music during the day, to the lively nightclub for 4,500 lively students, three times every week.
“But the SU extends far beyond the Tardis-like properties of the building. It is an organisation run entirely by students, for students. Whether you want to broadcast on Loughborough Campus Radio, volunteer at local care homes or join the Real Ale Society, the SU is the place for you.
“Rag [student-run charitable fundraising organisations] is the perfect example of this. Each year the students travel the world for projects like the Uganda Gorilla trek and the Mount Kilimanjaro climb, raising more than £1 million for charities in the process. This summer I am entering ‘Dash to Dubrovnik’ – a Top Gear-style challenge that entails driving a £500 car to Croatia, via the minor obstacles of the Alps and the Nürburgring, all in aid of the Royal Society for Blind Children.
“Each student who spends time studying at Loughborough will leave with their own personal and unique experience of the SU. A lot of students agree that the SU really is the beating heart of life here, and it certainly wouldn’t be the same without it.”
Ulster University has been the most-improved university, year on year. The university recorded improved scores for social life and catering for personal requirements, the students’ union and good support/welfare this year. Colum Mackey, Ulster University Students’ Union president and a law student, highlights the best things about attending the university.
“It’s great to know that the people teaching you are leading in their subject area. The facilities on campus are outstanding, with two campuses located on stunning greenfield sites and two in the heart of their respective cities. Outside the course, there are plenty of sports clubs and societies to join and lots going on in the local area. There are opportunities through the students’ union to help you meet new people and make loads of friends from across the four campuses.
“The thing that really stands out about Ulster University is the people – the staff are so helpful and want to see you succeed, and the students in your class will make you feel at home.”
Harper Adams University tops the Student Experience Survey results table this year, with students rating it highly across academic experience, social life and student welfare. This is an impressive feat as this is only the second year that the specialist agricultural institution has received enough responses to be eligible. Charlotte Bolton, a final-year agriculture student, discusses exactly what makes Harper Adams so special.
“Harper Adams University offers students a balance between academic work and practical skills. There is always the chance to put into practice what has been learned in the lecture theatre, be it in the field, the labs or with animals.
“The placement year offers a year-long break from academic studies and enables you to gain insight into the world of work, putting into practice both the academic and practical skills taught at Harper Adams. Lecturing staff are at the forefront of research in many disciplines, so you are being taught the most recent scientific developments in your field. Staff are friendly and approachable; the open-door policy shows their willingness to help you understand or to further your passion.
“Guest speakers feature regularly both in lectures and at the Harper Forum on a Thursday evening, informing students about a wide range of subjects and sparking inspiring discussion. Both the staff and students at Harper Adams come together to create a warm and inviting community. It is clear to see that ‘work hard, play hard’ applies to the whole Harper Adams community.”
Maintaining the safety of students is crucial for any university. The University of Surrey was voted as having the best security, but has also continued to improve its overall rating in the survey. Leo Blanchard, an English literature student, discusses the best things about going to the University of Surrey.
“From day one, the academic staff on my programme have been very good at explaining complex ideas and texts. They have frequent office hours, which make it easy to see them at a convenient time and discuss topics related to the modules they teach. The seminars they conduct have been particularly engaging as they provide the opportunity to have an open discussion of the themes in the texts we study.
“I lived in university accommodation during my first year at Surrey, which was a really positive experience. I lived at Manor Park, which was a nice introduction to Surrey as it meant I lived in essentially a small village of first-year students; this gave it a real sense of community. My room was clean, well furnished and well maintained, plus it was nice to have my own shower (all the rooms in Manor Park have en suites). I’m still close friends with many of my flatmates, too!
“One of the best things about Surrey is how safe it is, I have never felt personally in danger during my time here, even when walking home later at night. It also has good transport links to other towns and cities, as it only takes about half an hour to get to Waterloo, which I’ve found very convenient. Also, the town centre is nice, too, with lots of little shops and really nice places to eat and drink (most of which are on Deliveroo).
“I was a contributor to The Stag student magazine in first year, and then I was the Literature Editor in second year. This was a really valuable experience for me as it gave me the opportunity to practise my writing skills and have my original pieces published on quite a large scale. This experience was useful when finding placements, as it gave me a number of skills that I likely wouldn’t have gained otherwise.”