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HEPI / HEA 2014 Student Experience Survey: “vital questions for universities, students and Government”

  • 21 May 2014

The Higher Education Policy Institute and the Higher Education Academy have today jointly published the findings of the 2014 Student Academy Experience Survey.

Nick Hillman, the 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, said:

“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 new questions on wellbeing provide us with a fuller picture of the student experience. Again, a mixed picture emerges with the majority of students saying they are happy but analysis showing that some are less happy than the general population. Higher education should be challenging for students but not daunting. Peer networks and mentoring programmes may help, but further research into levels of wellbeing and its relationship with engagement, success and retention is needed.”

For further information please contact: Nick Hillman, HEPI Director, at [email protected] or Prue Griffiths, HEA press office, [email protected].


Key Findings:

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. 50% of students experiencing classes of between 1 and 5 other students find them ‘a lot’ beneficial, while the figure is only 10% for those with classes of more than 100 students.

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.  Students with 0-9 contact hours are notably less satisfied than those with 20-29 contact hours.

4. New questions introduced on the wellbeing of students show that when asked to plot ‘how happy did you feel yesterday’ on a scale between 0 (not at all) and 10 (completely), 72% of the general population chose between 7 and 10 compared with only 62% of full-time students.

5. The balance of total workload varies significantly by discipline, by institution and by year of study. For example, students in disciplines allied to medicine study for 50.9 hours a week, while students on courses in mass communications documentation study for 26.7 hours a week. Workload is around 30 hours per week across most disciplines and institution types.

6. 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%).

7. 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’.

8. Options were added to the survey this year to explore whether problems with engagement in learning resulted in expectations being missed, including an option that students might consider that they themselves had not put in enough effort. It is a striking finding of this survey that this was the most commonly selected reason. This is not to downplay the responsibility of universities whose role in encouraging, supporting and ensuring students’ active engagement in learning is vital. The finding also supports the HEA’s development of the UK Engagement Survey (UKES).


Notes for Editors

1. 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. The results have been weighted to ensure they are representative. A more detailed assessment is available from HEPI or the HEA and the full data are freely available for anyone to use on the HEPI website (from 10am, 21 May 2014).

2. The Summary and Recommendations, the full report and the dataset are all available at the Publications section of`-experience-survey/.

3. The presentations from the HEPI / HEA spring conference, where the survey was launched, are available at