Students give their verdict on university experience

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Students are becoming disillusioned with university because of disappointing courses and poor value for money, a study has found. A third of undergraduates said they may have chosen a different course if they could start again, while more than 10 per cent said their university experience had been worse than expected. Around one in three complained that their course has been poor value for money, with a third of these people describing value as ‘very poor’. And three quarters of students said their university had ‘probably not’ or ‘definitely not’ provided enough information about how tuition fees are spent.

The findings come amid a growing debate over the £9,000 tuition fees imposed under the last government. Some universities have advocated taking a new consumer-style, value-for-money approach given the large scale of debt saddling most graduates. The figures are contained in the 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

While more than 85 per cent of the 15,000 undergraduates surveyed said they were generally satisfied with their courses, many expressed reservations. Around 12 per cent said the reality of their academic experience had been worse than expected, while 49 per cent said it had been worse in some ways and better in others.

Interestingly, of the 61 per cent who had not had their expectations completely met, more than a third of the group partially blamed themselves. When asked to list why their expectations had not been met, 36 per cent said they had not ‘put in enough effort’ – the most common reason. Meanwhile, 32 per cent also said the course was poorly organised, 30 per cent said they had received fewer than expected contact hours and 29 per cent complained about quality of teaching and support.

Nick Hillman, director at HEPI, said: ‘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.’

Professor Stephanie Marshall, chief executive at HEA, added: ‘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.’
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.

Around 38 per cent of undergraduates receiving 0 to nine contact hours would change courses in comparison to 28 per cent for those on 30 or more contact hours.
Only 26 per cent of those with fewer contact hours feel they receive good or very good value for money compared to 56 per cent of those with more than 30 contact hours.
The results also suggested that undergraduates are less satisfied, less happy and have less of a sense that what they are doing is worthwhile than the general population.

Source: 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

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