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Students Report High Satisfaction, But Universities Shouldn’t Rest On Their Laurels

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Today we have published the results of the National Student Survey (NSS). As chief executive of the Office for Students, I am committed to making sure that students have a fulfilling experience of higher education which enriches their lives and careers. The NSS helps universities and colleges to understand where they are doing well and where they need to improve. It’s a crucial tool which can help improve students’ experience in the short, medium and long-term.

This year’s results show continued high satisfaction among students. That’s positive, of course. But universities and colleges mustn’t rest on their laurels. 8% of students are dissatisfied, and their concerns should be taken seriously and addressed. I understand that universities and colleges will want to shout about positive satisfaction scores. But they also need to be answering tough questions. Are students satisfied with the teaching and feedback they’re receiving? Are there unexplained differences in the results for students from different backgrounds? Are some courses performing much worse than others? By interrogating the data, universities and colleges can work to really understand where they need to improve.

What also came out of the survey was that improved assessment and better feedback remains a priority for students. Students rightly expect that their work will be fairly assessed, and that they will receive helpful feedback throughout their course. The results show that there’s much more to do here – with 14% of students dissatisfied with the quality of assessment and feedback, and a further 13% neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. Universities and colleges should take a careful look at what their own students are telling them. Other research – including our own survey of students’ perceptions of value for money – show us how much this matters to students. Universities and colleges should be bold in their responses, taking the time to listen to students. By doing so, they can develop systems of assessment and feedback that command ever greater respect.

It won’t surprise anyone that the quality of teaching is crucial to students. 94% of respondents to our value for money survey thought the quality of teaching was a very important factor in determining whether a course offered value for money. And universities and colleges are performing well here, with 84% of students satisfied with the teaching they receive.

It’s crucial that prospective students have the information, advice and guidance they need to make informed choices about their higher education. It’s a clear priority for the Office for Students. The NSS – which offers students feedback from their near peers – can be a hugely important part of the decision-making process. We will soon be uploading this year’s results onto the Unistats website. I’d certainly encourage all applicants and prospective students to take a look. Not only can you see results at a university-level; satisfaction levels are also available for individual courses. It’s invaluable, near real-time feedback from those people who matter most in our higher education system.

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