This blog was written by HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, Rachel Hewitt.
The issue of whether students are getting good value for money has been a focus since fees came into play but has been increasingly under the policy spotlight in recent months. Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, highlighted value for money as one of his strategic priorities for the Office for Students in his letter last month. This raises the question, when can the value of higher education be measured?
Since 2007, the HEPI and AdvanceHE Student Academic Experience Survey has asked students whether they feel they are getting value for money in their current course. Even during their studies, more students feel they’re getting good value for money than poor value – in 2019, 41% of students rated good or very good value for money, versus 29% who said they were getting poor or very poor value.
When we break down these results by year of study, we can see the timing when students are asked makes a significant difference: 47% of first-year students believe they get good value for money compared to only 39% of second and third-year students. Students who go on to do four or more years feel they are getting even better value for money, with 49% rating good or very good value – though this may be at least partly explained the higher proportion of students from Scotland studying on four-year courses, given tuition fees are free for Scottish and EU students.
However, it has been questioned whether students can adequately assess the value of their higher education experience during their studies. Research suggests there are lifelong benefits for graduates, who go on to have better health outcomes (both physical and mental), are more likely to engage civically and have better employment outcomes, including an earnings premium over non-graduates. Therefore, if we were to repeat this research with graduates after they had completed their studies, the proportion rating their experience as offering good or very good value could be higher.
There are good reasons that we do not currently have this information. Surveying graduates is expensive, due to the challenge of maintaining contact with them once they have left university. National surveys of graduates exist but they largely focus on the employment outcomes of graduates.
The Graduate Outcomes survey, currently in its first year of operating, surveys graduates 15 months after they complete their studies and replaces the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey, which surveyed graduates 6 months after graduation. These surveys largely gather data on the industries and occupations of graduates.
These are not the only sources of information about graduates after they leave university. The sometimes-controversial Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data provides information on graduates’ salaries up till 10 years after they conclude their studies. But, despite the challenges of surveying graduates, if we want to demonstrate the value of university by more than just salary, perhaps we should seek to understand graduates’ views on the value of higher education later in life.
To join the debate on valuing higher education, sign up to our free half-day event with PwC on “Valuing higher education – how best to safeguard investment in the sector”, on Friday, 18th October in central London, with senior speakers from the Office for Students, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, the Quality Assurance Agency, Abertay University and the University of the Arts London: https://bookwhen.com/hepi. Limited places are still available.