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Less students describing university as good value for money

An annual survey of undergraduates has shown an increase in the number of students who do not see their studies as good value for money.

The survey, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Advance HE, suggests that missed contact hours as a result of strikes and COVID-19 have impacted on students’ perceptions of the value of their university experience.

Only 39% thought that university was good or very good value for money, a decrease from 41% last year. There was also a small decline in value perceptions amid students who filled out the survey after the move to online teaching, with a fall in satisfaction from 40% to 38%.

Tuition fees were the main negative factor cited by students, although the cost of living and a lack of one-to-one contact hours were also highlighted. Teaching quality, resources and course content were generally viewed more positively. 

The impact of COVID-19 and strikes were also prevalent in responses. One student said: “Coronavirus means I’ve paid £9k for one seminar this term.”

This disruption is likely to continue into next academic year. The Office for Students (OfS) has mandated that institutions must confirm the balance between online and face-to-face teaching, as well as the availability of facilities such as libraries by 18 June.

It is a concern that students from more disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to report that their experience met or exceeded expectations, and more likely to say that it fell short. Such disparities clearly need to be addressed

– Nicola Dandridge

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of OfS, said: “These are exceptionally challenging times for both students and universities, but students must be told clearly how their courses will be taught next year.” 

Notable in the report was a clear ethnic divide in respondents’ perceptions, with less than half of Black students saying that they would choose the same course and university again, the lowest proportion from any group, and were less likely to perceive their course as good value for money.

Alison Jones, CEO of Advance HE, said that this divide was of  “continuing and significant concern”. 

Commenting on the report, Ms Dandridge said: “It is a concern that students from more disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to report that their experience met or exceeded expectations, and more likely to say that it fell short. Such disparities clearly need to be addressed.”

Also of concern were statistics relating to student wellbeing, with only 11% of respondents expressing life satisfaction and 15% viewing their life as worthwhile. The report explained that students are “‘significantly less likely than the general population to feel satisfied or happy with their lives, to feel their lives are worthwhile or to feel low levels of anxiety”.

This comes amid growing concerns about student mental health, and is likely to add weight to campaigns to increase investment in university wellbeing support services.

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