Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Value for money?

Earlier this week the BBC headlined a survey conducted by ComRes on their behalf which asked final year undergraduates three questions about their university experiences.  The headline figures were:

1 Which of the following comes closest to your opinion about your university education?
It has been value for money
521
52%
It has not been value for money
398
40%
Don't know
82
8%

2 To what extent do you feel that university has prepared you for the future?
A great deal
256
26%
Somewhat
576
58%
Not really
136
14%
Not at all
29
3%
Don't know
4
0%


If you could start university again, which of the following do you think you would do?
I would take the same course at the same University
458
46%
I would take the same course at a different university
181
18%
I would take a different course at the same university
166
17%
I would take a different course at a different university
117
12%
I would not go to university at all
34
3%
Don't know
46
5%


The headlines were clear – 40% of final year students didn’t think that their university education had been value for money. And with this being the first cohort to have paid £9k per year fees, that’s quite a story.

The sector response – if that is what a quote from the Chief Executive of Universities UK amounts to – was to defend universities’ record, drawing on the National Student Survey results.  Nicola Dandridge was quoted by the BBC as saying “The last national student survey reported that 86% of students were satisfied overall with their course. It shows that universities across the UK are responding to student feedback and working hard to improve the academic experience.”

The 2015 NSS results are set to be published by HEFCE on 12 August, and it’s a fair bet that many universities will be watching carefully not only because of their significance for league tables, but to see what effect the £9k fees have on student responses.

It seems very likely that there will be an effect: the ComRes survey broke down answers by subject of study and by region of university, and in Scotland, which does not charge fees to Scottish students, fully 79% said that their university education had been value for money, compared with 52% across all responses.

But there’s other interesting data too.  The third question is revealing: if they had their time again, only 3% of respondents would not go to university at all.  63% would go to the same university, with about a quarter of these opting for a different subject. 64% would choose the same subject, mostly at the same university.

Same university
Different university
Same course
46%
18%
Different course
17%
12%

This tells me quite a different story – fewer than half of students made the right university/course choice; but most got at least one of the variables right.  So, much to be done on advice and guidance at application, but less of a panic, it seems to me, about the perceived value of higher education.  

Maybe the need to get this right will push post-qualification application back up the agenda.  If universities focused on the needs of students and learners rather than their own staff convenience, students might make better university and course choices, and so be happier. Just a thought …


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