Eighty-five percent of those questioned said they were ‘generally satisfied’ with their quality of life as a student, with 30% ‘very satisfied’.
The satisfaction scores were part of Sodexo’s first Quality of Life Index within the overall survey, which the leading services provider has conducted since 2004. Sodexo, a provider of catering, accommodation and facilities management services to the higher education sector for nearly 50 years, asked 2,000 students to assess the wide range of services provided by their university – from study opportunities and careers services to accommodation and clubs and societies.
“We focus on improving student experience through integrated services that promote quality of life, whilst delivering our clients improved financial performance,” said Sodexo Universities’ strategic development director, Peter Taylor. “The Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey is an invaluable tool that provides us with a comprehensive overview of university life for undergraduates. It gives us the data required to adjust and improve our service offers and provide strategic partnership to our university clients.”
In the latest survey, almost three-quarters of respondents (74%) were happy with the buildings and facilities their university offers, while a similar amount were pleased by the counselling and support services available: 79% said their institution offers somewhere to go if they are feeling stressed.
However, considering day-to-day financial concerns are one of the main pressures students expressed (48% are troubled by the cost of living, up six percentage points since 2014), advice and support services relating to these money worries were seen as less accessible (25% did not know where to go), as were pastoral services around feelings of loneliness (also 25%).
Seventy per cent were happy with the opportunities available to get the most from their course but student satisfaction with opportunities to improve their employability was slightly lower (64%).
“What sets us apart from the competition is our single-minded focus on improving student experience,” said Peter. “Sodexo has a whole series of initiatives in place to support universities; everything from having student experience managers on the ground to help manage relationships with students, through to offering employment opportunities and internships. Programmes like our Student Board of Directors are designed to share our business experience and prepare students for the workplace.”
Securing a good job on graduation remains the main motivation for attending university – 71% listed enhancing employment opportunities as a key reason for going – while 53% of students said they wanted to boost their future earning power.
However, satisfaction with university accommodation was significantly lower, with just 55% of students saying they were happy with their residence in term-time. About a third (34%) felt ambivalent towards their housing, while 13% said they were unhappy about their student digs.
University-run accommodation tended to polarise opinion, with just 16% living there saying they did hold strong views on its quality compared to 38% of those based off-campus. Of those in catered halls, 70% were satisfied with it against 15% who were not, while the same scores for self-catered accommodation were 68% and 16% respectively.
More than a third (36%) said the existence of an en suite bathroom was their top priority in university-run accommodation, 10 percentage points ahead of access to high-speed Wi-Fi.
Sodexo continues to grow its student accommodation business, Student Living by Sodexo. Currently with a portfolio of over 9,500 beds in 20 locations, it has a medium-term goal to be managing 20,000 student beds by 2020.
“We have worked with clients to provide an operating structure that creates the means for Sodexo to invest in the business, further underwriting operational performance, and sharing in the ongoing success of each venture,” said Peter.
Eating and drinking
Three quarters of students make an effort to eat healthily – this is particularly evident among non-UK students – and today’s undergraduates drink a lot less alcohol than their predecessors.
More than a third (36%) of students report they don’t drink alcohol (up from 26% in 2012). Instead, there is a strong café culture at universities – over half of students spend up to £20 a week on teas and coffees from university cafes.
However, students appear to be spending far less time socialising with friends than in previous years. Only 5% spend five hours or more socialising in a typical day compared to 10% in 2014, and 19% said they spent no time at all socialising with friends (up from 15% two years earlier).
It follows that 83% of students say they spent £20 or less a week on alcohol, cigarettes and social activities, continuing a distinct decline in student expenditure on partying since 2010, when the figure was 67%.
Heavier academic workloads are also stopping many students from spending more time out and about with friends.
Another trend that may explain the lack of student socialising is the number of undergraduates living at their family home in term time.
While they remain in the minority, a significant number of students who choose to live at home with their family in term time has continued to rise: up to 21% from 13% in 2008 and 19% in 2014.
Sport and exercise is a fixture in the average week of many students: 36% said they commit up to an hour a day to fitness activities. But 52% said they did no exercise at all – the first time a majority has said this since the Sodexo survey was launched in 2004.
We focus on improving student experience through integrated services that promote quality of life
Spectre of debt
The spectre of debt still looms large for students, with two-thirds (66%) saying they will leave university with debts of £20,000 or more, double the rate (30%) who said this four years earlier. Many expect to rack up far higher debts.
Some 29% of students expect to leave university with over £40,000 of debt, up from just 2% in 2012 prior to the introduction of higher fees.
The main source of income is state-subsidised maintenance loans, which are claimed by 75% of UK respondents, while 62% had a tuition-fee loan.
The so-called ‘bank of mum and dad’ is still vital, with 49% dependent on hand-outs from their parents, while 9% look to grandparents and other relatives for cash.
Part-time work is also crucial for many students, with 28% holding down a job in term time, up from 26% in 2014, although they’re working fewer hours – an average of nine a week compared to 13 hours in 2010.
Open day experience is key
When it comes to choosing a university, having a positive experience at an open day was the single most important reason for selecting an institution (46% of students said this was key). Other factors include the attractiveness of a university campus (33% said this mattered) and whether there was a friendly atmosphere during their campus visit (38%) – scores which may vindicate recent multi-million pound investments in sleek academic buildings to entice potential undergraduates.
Many students are now keen to know if their university is able to help arrange an internship in their chosen profession: 27% said their choice of university was heavily influenced by the university’s ability to get them a work placement
Peter concluded: “This year’s survey has served to endorse the view that with the sharp rise in university fees, student expectations of facilities and services at university have gone up dramatically.
“With increased financial pressure on students we are definitely seeing that students want value for money.
It is therefore vital that we get prices right within our catering and student living by Sodexo accommodation offers and that we work with our university partners
to offer an experience that students can truly value.”
To see the full report visit: www.sodexo.co.uk/uls