On Thursday, 4th June, the Higher Education Policy Institute and the Higher Education Academy launch the results of the 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey (Full report and Summary report)

Nick Hillman, Director, HEPI, said:

‘The survey reveals more about what students at UK universities are up to than any other source. They are generally satisfied with their courses but there are substantial differences in workload: students in some subjects only work half as much on average as students in other subjects. Across all areas, students work for only around three-quarters of the time stated in the national guidelines.

‘Course quality depends on more than contact hours and class size, but students do care deeply about these issues. They are notably less satisfied when they have fewer than 10 contact hours and classes of over 50 students. They also care more about whether their lecturers are trained to teach and have professional expertise than whether they are active researchers.

‘The most striking new finding is that a whopping three-quarters of undergraduates want more information about where their fees go. Providing this is coming to look like an inevitable consequence of relying so heavily on student loans. If it doesn’t happen soon, it could be forced on universities by policymakers.

‘The survey also provides the best available evidence on student wellbeing. Students are less likely to regard their lives as worthwhile and are less happy than others. This suggests good support services, including counselling, should be a priority despite the impending cuts.’

Professor Stephanie Marshall, Chief Executive, Higher Education Academy, said:

“The sector has much to be proud of here – including high levels of overall student satisfaction – but the survey also clearly highlights areas where more focus is needed from all of us in the sector.

“The UK is renowned for the high quality teaching it offers in its universities and colleges. For the first time, this year’s survey asks students about the importance they put on staff being trained to teach. In many subjects, the survey shows, students rate staff receiving training as more important than professional/industry expertise and research activities.

“We believe that training for those who teach in higher education is key. The fact that students highlight its importance gives the HEA’s work to promote professional standards even greater significance.

“It is important to note the relatively high numbers who do not feel supported in independent study. We know that the skills developed through independent study are important to employers and to lifelong learning. Providing guidance and structure outside timetabled sessions is key here.”


Key findings:

  1. Full-time undergraduate students in UK universities have high levels of satisfaction: 87% are fairly or very satisfied with their course. However, 34% say they would definitely or maybe have chosen another course if they were to have their time again (though there are substantial variations by subject).
  2. Overall, 41% of students in the UK think they have received good or very good value for money, while 29% feel the value for money has been poor or very poor. However, only 7% of English students feel they receive very good value for money, compared with 35% of Scottish students in Scotland.
  3. A key finding from this year’s survey relates to the importance that students put on their teachers in higher education being trained to teach. When asked to rank the importance of three characteristics of the people who teach them, a higher proportion of students rated staff having been trained in how to teach (39%) and having professional or industry expertise (44%) as the number one priority, than staff being active researchers (17%).
  4. Total workload, which is made up of contact hours, independent study and off-campus course-related work varies markedly by subject. In Mass Communications and Documentation students work on average for 22 hours a week while in in Medicine and Dentistry they work on average for 44 hours a week.
  5. When asked to explain why their experience was worse than expected or better in some ways and worse in others, students’ top response (chosen by 36% of respondents) was that they had not put in enough effort themselves (they could select multiple options). The relatively high number of students who felt they hadn’t worked hard enough and who also do not feel supported in their independent study shows the importance of providing guidance and structure outside timetabled sessions.
  6. While contact hours on their own have been shown not to be a good measure of the quality of learning, students with fewer scheduled hours are more likely to say they would have chosen another course if they could have their time again (38% of undergraduates on 0 to 9 contact hours versus 28% for those on 30 or more contact hours). They also have worse perceptions of value for money: for students in England on the £9,000 fees regime, only 26% of those with 0 to 9 contact hours feel they receive good or very good value for money compared to 56% of those with more than 30 contact hours. Students that do less academic work in total score less highly on wellbeing too: 43% of students who spend fewer than ten hours a week on their academic work feel the things they do in their lives are worthwhile, compared to 78% of those who work for at least 50 hours a week.
  7. For the first time, this year’s survey asked about the information provided by institutions to students on how their tuition fees are spent. Just 18% of respondents feel they have sufficient enough information on this, while 75% say they do not. There is clearly more work to be done in giving students the information they want on how their fees are spent – earlier this year, this was the subject of a collection of essays from a range of senior figures published by HEPI (‘What Do I Get’: Ten essays on students fees, student engagement and student choice, February 2015).
  8. The results confirm the findings from last year that undergraduates are less satisfied, less happy and have less of a sense that what they are doing is worthwhile than the general population, even of a similar age group. For example, when asked to plot how happy they felt ‘yesterday’ on a scale of 0 to 10 (where 0 is ‘not at all’ and 10 is ‘completely’), 62% of students put themselves between 7 and 10, compared with 73% of the general population and 72% of young people aged 20 to 24.

Notes for Editors

  1. The HEPI / HEA Student Academic Experience Survey 2015 was undertaken by Youthsight between 16 February and 24 March 2015. 15,129 responses were collected from full-time undergraduate students across all years of study. Weighting was applied to the responses collected, to ensure the sample was balanced and reflective of the full-time student population at an overall level. A more detailed assessment is available from HEPI or the HEA and the full data are freely available for anyone to use from the HEPI website.
  2. The Higher Education Policy Institute’s mission is to ensure that higher education policymaking is better informed by evidence and research.We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan.
  3. The Higher Education Academy is the national body for learning and teaching in higher education. We work with universities and other higher education providers to bring about change in learning and teaching. We do this to improve the experience that students have while they are studying, and to support and develop those who teach them. Our activities focus on rewarding and recognising excellence in teaching, bringing together people and resources to research and share best practice, and by helping to influence, shape and implement policy – locally, nationally, and internationally.

For further information please contact Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, at n.hillman@hepi.ac.uk.