Monday 17 August 2015

If you're happy and you know it ...

The results of the 2015 National Student Survey (NSS) were published last week. The NSS asks all final year undergraduates in the UK to rate their satisfaction with various elements of their study. It’s a survey which has had plenty of criticism over time in relation to its usefulness, but it is here to stay.

The survey includes a question asking students to rate their overall satisfaction, and it is this that often generates the headlines. I’ve compiled a data set going back to 2010 for all UK universities, showing their performance on this question. The data shows the proportion of respondents who definitely or mostly agree with the statement ‘Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of my course’.

The overall trend is upwards: in 2010 the institutional average (mean) score was 81.8%; in 2015 it was 85.9%, and it has risen in every year. This might be because students are generally more satisfied; in my view it also reflects greater effort by universities to manage student expectations, to address issues, and to encourage higher rates of survey completion. (A good general rule is that the more cross someone is, their more likely they are to give feedback – so the more responses you get, the better on average the response will be).

You can see some interesting patterns when you look at the four nations in the UK. England dominates the UK sector in numbers, so it’s unsurprising that the England pattern is like the UK average. But the three other nations – Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – show distinct patterns. Northern Ireland in particular performs well, and although this is only a small number of universities, it is a consistently higher response.

Headlines often focus, understandably, on who has the most satisfied students, but there’s another measure possible. A benchmark is calculated for each university, reflecting the sector average satisfaction levels but adjusted to reflect the mix of students at the institution. And where performance above (or below) benchmark is statistically significant, this is flagged. And so we can see which universities consistently score better than the data says they ought. These are places which, if the survey is to be believed, understand how to ensure that their students are satisfied.

I’ve identified those universities which – in every year from 2010 to 2015 – perform significantly better than their benchmark for overall student satisfaction. Here they are – in alphabetical order. This would be my go-to list if I wanted to understand how to make NSS results better:

University of Buckingham
Conservatoire for Dance and Drama
University of East Anglia
University of Essex
University of Keele
Loughborough University
University of Newcastle upon Tyne

Well done those universities.

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