This guest blog has been kindly written for us by Paul Humphreys, Founder & CEO at StudentCrowd and Member of the Higher Education Commission.


Last month, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) published The Wisdom of Students: Monitoring Quality through Student Reviews. Here are two extracts from the Executive Summary:

This collective-judgement score had a positive association with Annual Provider Review (APR) outcomes, Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) outcomes, and the overall satisfaction scores from the National Student Survey (NSS).

These findings suggest that the use of unsolicited student feedback could have significant benefits for regulators, providers and students.

Benefits For Students

For HEPI readers who are unfamiliar with StudentCrowd, our purpose is to help students to make decisions. HEPI Director Nick Hillman likes to introduce us as the ‘TripAdvisor for Higher Education’, which is a fair representation of our goal. QAA’s research (conducted by Alex Griffiths, Meghan Leaver and Roger King) clearly demonstrates the value that reviews have for students. However, this is not new information for most applicants. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) Track Survey (2017 entry) found ‘Student reviews of the university’ to be the third most important factor in ‘reply’ decisions:

This came as a surprise to many in the sector, how could student reviews (which came in at number three) be more important than league tables (which came in at number 10)? We found the answer by talking with our users. Prospective students ask questions like ‘will I fit in?’, ‘will I belong?’ and ‘what is it really like?’. Such answers can be found by reading real student experiences on an independent platform. It is the same reason we read TripAdvisor reviews before we book a hotel. University open days can also help to answer such questions. This extract from UCAS New Applicant Survey (2017 entry) shows the importance of ‘University open days’ to influence student choice:For students who are unable to attend an open day (such as international students, applying via Clearing), student reviews provide a key role in understanding what they can expect on campus. Of particular importance for international students is the quality of accommodation available. The UCAS New applicant survey also reveals that online reviews of universities by other studentshave more influence on application decisions than:

  • UCAS exhibition;
  • e-mails from universities;
  • social media contact from universities; and
  • post from universities (exc. prospectuses).

Prospective students are clearly influenced by online reviews. QAA’s research has validated, for the first time, that such reviews are also correlated to the sector’s key performance metrics. This must be good news for students.

We asked Dr Alex Griffiths of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) to further comment on the benefits to students:

Unsolicited feedback provides current and potential students insights into multiple aspects of student life, including the application process, finding accommodation, taking specific modules, exam organisation, all the way through to their graduation ceremony and beyond. Unlike annual surveys, which certainly have their strengths, student reviews and social media posts let us see what students themselves identify as important, year round, and in near real-time.

Benefits For Providers

‘Yes, I found online student reviews important to selecting a university’ … said 91% of students (UCAS End of cycle survey, 2017 entry);

‘Yes, I’d love my organisation to be reviewed’ … said no organisation ever.

It seems counterintuitive to suggest that providers receive benefits from reviews. Most organisations wince at thought of being reviewed online. Much of the angle from QAA’s research is to demonstrate that online reviews can be used to predict Annual Provider Review (APR) outcomes, Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) outcomes, and the overall satisfaction scores from the National Student Survey (NSS). I would like to add two further benefits: Student Recruitment and Student Retention.

Student Recruitment

Student recruitment, as with recruiting employees, must be about finding the best fit. This is almost impossible if applicants are purely consuming:

  • league table data;
  • graduate outcome data; and
  • entry requirements data.

At open days, education providers actively help applicants to understand how they will fit in. Applicants meet current students, visit the accommodation and ask questions to tutors. A growing number of providers are recognising the importance of student reviews. Providers can respond to student reviews and signpost readers to key resources on the university website:We asked Emma Leech, Director of Marketing and Advancement at Loughborough University to comment on how reviews benefit students:

Student reviews are real, transparent and peer focused. Genuine information from people who have gone through the same experiences. Students are likely to trust peers far more than faceless corporate marketing. Students question authority and traditional responses. The days of the cherry picked student quotes are over! 

Student Retention

We compared student review data with non-continuation data, in a similar way to the QAA research. We found correlations across StudentCrowd’s 17 review criteria, including ‘Personal Tutor’, ‘Clubs and Societies’ and ‘Social Experience (accommodation)’. In short, there is a statistically significant relationship between students who express ‘I’m having a poor social experience in halls’ AND students who leave university.

This is not surprising, but does add a significant benefit to providers. Universities can analyse reviews to ascertain which factors are the main drivers for student retention. In the above example, universities can analyse the accommodation options to reveal which halls have the poorest social experience. The following chart maps 16 halls at an anonymous university:This provider could focus efforts on the worst-performing five halls. They could use this research to make a business case for investing to improve the social experience. They could even analyse the top performing halls and apply those lessons to the other properties. StudentCrowd reviews have already been utilised in this way and we look forward to reading more reviews like this:

I’ve had the best time of my life. I didn’t think I would fit in but I clicked with everyone so quickly. Best decision ever!

(Source: Student at Nottingham Trent University, 6 June 2018)

Benefits For Regulators

As with QAA, we are making our review data available to regulators. If you would like to get in touch, please contact paul@studentcrowd.com.

Watch this space!