Findings from the Student Academic Experience Survey 2014 commissioned by the Higher Education Academy and the Higher Education Policy Institute show that while full-time undergraduate students in UK universities have high levels of satisfaction - 86% are fairly or very satisfied with their course – wellbeing among some students is lower than in the general population.
While the majority of the 15,046 students surveyed said that they are happy, satisfied with their lives and feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile, comparison with national surveys suggests that they have lower levels of wellbeing than the general population. When asked to plot ‘how happy did you feel yesterday’ on a scale between 0 (not at all) and 10 (completely), 72% of the general population chose between 7 and 10 compared with only 62% of full-time students.
The survey also shows that the benefits of smaller class sizes are clearly recognised by students: 89% of students felt they gained ‘a lot’ or ‘quite a bit’ educationally when attending sessions with no other students, with similar levels of positivity for tutorial-sized classes of up to 15 students in which interactive learning is most feasible. This supports findings by Professor Graham Gibbs in research commissioned by the HEA (Dimensions of Quality, 2010) that class size is a key indicator of quality.
Professor Stephanie Marshall, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Academy, said:
“The sector has much to be proud of here in terms of student satisfaction, but it is essential that we work together to address the less positive findings from this report. Student engagement is key and support at all levels is vital.
“It is interesting to note that some students – a third of those surveyed – say that one of the reasons that their expectations were not met is because they have not put in enough effort themselves. We should respond with equal honesty: we all have a responsibility to help students to achieve their goals and we can do this through involving them as much as possible in their learning and teaching – from the design of courses, to supporting independent learning, to exploring different teaching techniques. We also need to support those who teach them through encouraging professional development.
“The new questions on wellbeing provide us with a fuller picture of the student experience. Again, a mixed picture emerges with the majority of students saying they are happy but analysis showing that some are less happy than the general population. Higher education should be challenging for students but not daunting. Peer networks and mentoring programmes may help, but further research into levels of wellbeing and its relationship with engagement, success and retention is needed.”
Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:
“This survey poses vital questions for universities, students and Government. It shows the workload of undergraduates fluctuates across institutions, students are less carefree than previously thought and politicians should promote better information on university life.
“Student satisfaction remains high, which should be celebrated. But over the years, HEPI has built up a consistent picture of some students at British universities working less hard than the guidelines suggest. Higher education is a partnership between institutions and students. There is an onus on both parties to ensure the experience is as rewarding as possible but only sometimes is that happening. The survey also provides the first ever proper assessment of the wellbeing of students. It is troubling that, on average, students have a less good quality of life than others.
“The data suggest growing differences across the UK. Students in Scotland generally think they are getting good value for money. Meanwhile, students in England are paying much more but receiving only a little more. In England, one-in-three students say they are getting poor value for money – nearly twice as high as before the £9,000 fees were introduced.
“In this election year, students should press all the political parties to say what they will do to encourage universities to offer world-class teaching alongside their world-class research.”
Notes for Editors
1. The Higher Education Policy Institute/ Higher Education Academy Student Academic Experience Survey 2014 was undertaken by YouthSight between 24 February and 26 March 2014. The sample consisted of 15,046 full-time undergraduates. The results have been weighted to ensure they are representative.