The 2016 Student Academic Experience Survey published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on Thursday, 9th June 2016 reveals that, while 85% of full-time undergraduates at UK institutions are satisfied with their course, just 37% of them perceive they get good value for money.

The overwhelming majority (86%) do not want to see their fees increased even where there is shown to be excellent teaching.

The annual HEPI-HEA Survey of over 15,000 full-time undergraduates has a big impact on policy, as reflected in the 2015 higher education green paper and the 2016 higher education white paper. This year, the main findings reveal:

  • The majority of students are satisfied with their course (85%). For the first time, the Survey correlates students’ satisfaction levels with other features of the student experience. The strongest correlation is with prior expectations being met, followed by having teaching staff who are helpful and supportive. Students who live in university accommodation and first-year students show higher levels of satisfaction. Students from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds show lower levels of satisfaction, which may be explained partly by their higher propensity to live at home while studying.
  • Perceptions of ‘good value for money’ are falling in all four parts of the UK from 53% in 2012 to 37% today, but are lowest in England. There is strong evidence that students equate contact hours with good value: 58% of students taking Medicine or Dentistry think they are getting good value for money compared to only 30% of students taking Technology, Social Sciences, Mass Communications and Documentation or European Languages. The overwhelming majority of students (75%) want more information about how their tuition fees are spent, which may be one way of improving perceptions of value for money.
  • The Survey reveals significant differences in workload between disciplines. Students taking Subjects Allied to Medicine (such as Nursing) work for 47 hours a week compared to 25 hours a week for students of Mass Communications and Documentation. On average, full-time undergraduate students work for 33 hours a week, split between 12 contact hours, 15 hours of independent study and 6 hours undertaking off-campus course-related work (such as a placement).
  • New additions to the Survey for 2016 reveal gaps in the characteristics students expect their lecturers to display and their actual characteristics. For example, 57% of students say it is ‘very important’ for staff to have received training in how to teach but only 21% think their lecturers demonstrate this ‘a lot’. Conversely, while 26% of students think it is ‘very important’ for those who teach them to be active researchers, 38% think this is demonstrated ‘a lot’.
  • A new question for 2016 reveals a substantial gap between students’ expectations of the time taken to mark their work and the time it actually takes. A majority of students (54%) think their work should be returned in two weeks or less, but under one-third of students (31%) receive their work back this quickly.
  • Students have lower levels of wellbeing than others and are much more anxious. For example, 21% of students have the lowest anxiety levels compared to 41% of the population as a whole and 43% of all younger people. A new question added to the survey for 2016 reveals that over two-thirds (68%) of students know how to access their institution’s counselling services.
  • Students are almost universally opposed to the Government’s plan to let universities raise their fees where they can demonstrate excellent teaching. Almost nine-out-of-ten students (85%) do not think this is a good idea and only 8% say it is.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

‘The 2016 HEPI-HEA Survey reveals some crucial findings for policymakers as they implement the biggest higher education reforms for a generation.

‘Universities and the Government both want to see tuition fees increase, but students are strongly opposed to this. So, if the politicians are to deliver the extra cash universities say is necessary for delivering a top-notch student experience, they need more covering fire from the higher education sector itself. Specifically, universities must show how any extra fee income will directly benefit their students.

‘Higher education institutions could also do more to shape and meet the expectations of undergraduates on areas such as contact hours, the qualifications of lecturers and feedback on written work.

‘The high levels of anxiety among students show that having to stand on your own two feet as an independent learner – combined with financial, workload and future career worries – is a combustible mix. If we are to raise the academic performance of groups at risk of falling behind, then we need a new focus on students who live at home and those from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds in particular.

‘Any institution that responds in full to the Survey’s findings could thrive in the Teaching Excellence Framework that is waiting around the corner.’

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

‘Once again, students highlight the importance of good teaching and the value they place on teaching staff being qualified and current in their teaching and subject discipline. We must listen to them. It’s a matter of fact that there is a positive link between institutional investment in a professional development programme for teaching staff and strong levels of engagement reported by students in our UK Engagement Survey (UKES).

‘We need to work more closely with students about their understanding and expectations of their teaching and learning experience. They are right to expect high-quality contact hours and the importance of quality rather than the quantity of contact hours is well-evidenced. Higher education is characterised by independent learning. Helping students to learn independently, through directed independent learning, is critical to their future success. Staff who are trained and continuously develop their teaching practice will be well-placed to support students both in and out of direct contact.’

Notes to editors:

The Higher Education Policy Institute’s mission is to ensure that higher education policy-making is better informed by evidence and research. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan (company no. 4503712, registered charity no. 1099645).

The Higher Education Academy’s mission is to improve learning outcomes by raising the status and quality of teaching in higher education.  The HEA is a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales no. 04931031. Registered as a charity in England and Wales no. 1101607. Registered as a charity in Scotland no. SC043946.