The HEPI / HEA 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.
1. Full-time undergraduate students in UK universities have high levels of satisfaction: 86% are fairly or very satisfied with their course. However, 31% say they would definitely or maybe have chosen another course if they were to have their time again.
2. 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.
3. Undergraduates in their first and second years have an average of 14.2 contact hours per week during term time and complete another 14.3 hours of private study on top. This is less than three-quarters of the 40 hours a week assumed in the Quality Assurance Agency guidelines but other study hours, such as placements, raises the total to 33.9 hours, and two thirds of undergraduate students (64%) are satisfied with their contact hours.
4. 70% of undergraduates at Scottish institutions, who typically pay no fees, believe they are receiving good or very good value for money, compared with only 41% in England, where fees are typically £9,000. One-sixth (18.3%) of first and second year students from the UK studying at institutions in England believed their course represented very poor or poor value for money in 2012, but the figure has now risen to one-third (33.1%).
5. When asked about their top three priorities for institutional expenditure, 48% of undergraduates chose ‘reducing fee levels’ (55% for first and second years in England). The next four priorities are more teaching hours (35%); smaller class sizes (35%); better training for lecturers (34%); and better learning facilities (34%). Only 12% opt for ‘better pay for staff’ and only 7% for ‘giving academics more time for research’.
Nick Hillman, 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.”
Professor Stephanie Marshall, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Academy, added: “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 Summary and Recommendations, the full report and the dataset are all available at the Publications section of www.hepi.ac.uk.