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Student lifestyle - trends from around the world

Sodexo's first International University Lifestyle Survey asks: how do UK students compare to their contemporaries worldwide?

Posted by Rianna Newman | September 19, 2017 | Research

UK students are more interested in the student experience and more likely to pick their university based on social and non-academic factors than their global contemporaries, according to Sodexo’s first International University Lifestyle Survey.

The survey also uncovered the importance that all global students place on an attractive and friendly campus, and revealed some common concerns – around value for money, managing stress and workload, and preparation for the workforce. 

Sodexo UK has conducted its Lifestyle Survey biennially since April 2004, identifying and tracking trends in key non-academic areas of university life as experienced by undergraduate students. For the first time, in response to a more global higher education sector, Sodexo conducted the survey on a worldwide basis, polling over 4,000 students in six countries (the US, China, India, Spain and Italy, as well as the UK). 

What attracts students? 

One of the most striking differences between UK students and those around the world is the greater expectation of a good social experience. When asked to identify the factors that swayed their choice of university, 38% of UK students identified an ‘active social life/ good social facilities’, compared to only 32% globally. 

When asked to name the most important factor in their final choice of university, the mostly commonly cited by UK students was a ‘good experience at open days’. This was very different to other countries – in the US the most important factor was ‘financial support available’, for Indian students ‘IT, library/ study facilities’ and for Spanish and Italian students, ‘ability to live at home’ – and highlights the importance of UK universities investing in marketing and creating strong impressions on potential applicants. This applies equally to social media and digital marketing. When researching their choice of university, 83% of UK students stated that they had been influenced by internet research, and this was considered more important than official rankings and advice or guidance from parents, teachers or friends. 

Overall, when looking at non-academic factors, students globally wanted to see an attractive campus (37%) and the most popular services that students were looking for included good IT/library (38%) and study facilities and good social facilities (32%). 

Paul Anstey, CEO for Sodexo Universities for UK and Ireland, Benelux and Nordic Regions, said: “In an age when we are increasingly seeing digital learning, it’s good to hear that students are still interested in the physical campus and want to see great social and learning spaces. The challenge for service companies like Sodexo is to support universities’ estates strategies as they seek to offer more fluid and flexible spaces, where students can come together to learn, collaborate and socialise.” 

Accommodation: UK compares well 

UK students have high expectations for their accommodation, but the survey revealed that across a broad suite of services they are well-served. Seventy four per cent of students were satisfied with their living arrangements, compared to 72% globally. Sixty six per cent had security, compared to 58%; 48% had an en suite, compared to 42%; and 39% had social space (a café or bar), compared to 32%. Unsurprisingly, the accommodation service considered most important for students, and even more so for UK students than their global counterparts, was Wi-Fi (79% of UK students cited it, compared to 64% globally). 

Stresses and strains: mental health issues more prevalent amongst UK students. The survey revealed some interesting differences between students in different countries in terms of their main worries and concerns. Over a quarter of UK students (27%) stated that making new friends was the biggest thing they had to overcome in their first month at university, compared to only 17% of students worldwide. Almost half of UK students (47%) stated that they had suffered loneliness at university, compared to only a third (32%) of global students. 

The UK had the highest number of students who had considered dropping out (37%). Of those students, the reason most often cited was study-related problems, but the second largest reason was health or mental health problems, referenced by 42% of students. And when asked what type of life skills students might like to see, to support their academic studies, UK students were more interested in learning to deal with stress (48% wanted this), more than money management or careers advice. 

Paul Anstey commented: “In our Student Living by Sodexo accommodation business the focus is very much on creating a supportive, home-from-home environment. Our teams are trained to provide support to students and importantly to signpost them to the right university pastoral services if we can see that a student is finding life hard.” 

In an age when we are increasingly seeing digital learning, it's good to hear that students are still interested in the physical campus and want to see great social and learning spaces

Finances and value for money 

Interestingly, given the recent rise in fees at English universities, UK students were less concerned about day-to-day finances than their contemporaries. In the UK 30% expressed concern, compared to 40% globally, 51% of Indian students and 48% of US students. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, English students are going to leave with more debts than any other country in the developed world (£50,800 after interest rates are raised on student loans to 6.1%), but the UK’s loan system clearly means that worries about these costs are delayed until after graduation.

UK students were, however, critical about value for money. Only 42% thought that university offered value for money, which roughly tallies with the Higher Education Policy Institute student satisfaction survey (which has found only 35% rating their university experience as “good” or “very good” value). More students in China, India and the US thought their course was good value for money, 67%, 55% and 52% respectively, whilst, Italian and Spanish students were even less impressed than their UK counterparts (37% and 29% respectively). 

The survey found that perception of value for money was much more closely aligned with satisfaction levels, than with the actual cost of university. Students in Italy and Spain who pay less for higher education perceived lower value for money, but also had lower overall satisfaction levels with university life. This reflects the need for universities to focus on student satisfaction and overall experience, which, of course, has been front of mind for UK universities in view of the National Student Survey and Teaching Excellence Framework. 

Careers and outcomes

Compared to students worldwide, UK students are less focused on careers. Forty six per cent of UK students stated that they knew what job they wanted to do following graduation, which was the smallest percentage of any country’s student population. Asian students were the most focused on the end goal; 66% of Indian students and 60% of Chinese students had a career plan. Asian students were also the most likely to have completed an internship to help them progress into employment. Sixty seven per cent of Chinese students had done so, compared to a much smaller 21% of UK students. 

Anstey concluded: “Across the globe Sodexo partners with more than 1,000 universities in 32 countries to deliver services which improve students’ quality of life and help our clients meet their strategic and financial objectives. To do this effectively, it is critical we continuously listen to students, explore best practice worldwide and share our insights with clients and stakeholders, so we can, with them, enhance every step of the student journey – from students’ choice of university to their departure to the professional world.” 

 

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