It should always have been so, but there’s no doubt that the reforms ramping up levels of competition within the sector, in England at least, have made this an even more pressing concern.
With universities now expected to compete for students, particularly those achieving the best A level grades, they will be scrutinised as never before by both current and potential students, from the standard of teaching and facilities to the opportunities their degrees open up.
In this context, there is likely to be even greater interest than before in the 2013 Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey, which is also distributed with the Times Educational Supplement.
Now in its eighth year, the methodology we have used remains consistent, with the ranking based on responses from 12,000 students who were polled between September 2011 and August 2012.
Crucially, our survey is based on questions covering the factors that students themselves say matter to them.
Those responding have rated their university, using a seven-point scale, on the 21 aspects of university life that their peers said were most important.
As our analysis shows, there has been a greater level of movement than last year, with three institutions breaking into the top 10 for the first time, and the University of East Anglia leapfrogging several rivals to move from sixth place last year to top spot in 2013.
Asked to explain its success, UEA admits that improving the student experience is not an overnight process, and attributes its rise in our survey to four years of hard work.
We are always careful to acknowledge the limitations of a survey of this kind. We are transparent about the sample sizes and the methodology.
It is, however, worth noting that the number of institutions with 100 responses or more has increased slightly on last year, from 85 to 90.
Of course, this survey will never provide a blueprint for others to follow, but we hope it will help to highlight when institutions are getting certain things right, and in this way help the sector as a whole to continue to raise its game.
editor, Times Higher Education
Valuable intelligence for a big decision
Surveys like this are one of the ways that prospective students, parents and sponsors can make informed decisions about where, and what, to study.
The range of experiences covered in the THE Student Experience Survey helps to give a rounded picture of what to expect from different higher education institutions and is especially useful when looked at in conjunction with other surveys such as the HEA’s postgraduate student surveys, and information from other sources.
The HEA, and others who look to enhance the student learning experience, can make excellent use of these results to enable even greater improvements for the benefit of all students.
chief executive, Higher Education Academy