Student satisfaction hits new low: National Student Survey 2021
Image: Unsplash / Changbok Ko

Student satisfaction hits new low: National Student Survey 2021

According to the National Student Survey (NSS) for 2021, student satisfaction for UK university courses has dropped to its lowest-ever level.

Most students did not agree that their institution had supported their mental well-being this last year throughout the pandemic.  Only 42% of students felt their mental well-being had been supported.

Three-quarters of NSS respondents said they were satisfied with their course quality – a drop of 8% from last year. The previous lowest figure for overall satisfaction was 80.3% in 2006. 

The availability of learning resources saw a steep fall of 12% in the agreement rate from 86% to 74%. In this section, 72% agreed IT facilities supported their learning well, down from 83%. 

Less than half (48%) of students said they were content with the delivery of teaching and learning of their course during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Satisfaction rates for students who would normally have studied through distance learning barely changed this year from last year. A small number of institutions also maintained their satisfaction rates, with eight increasing their scores on learning resources by 1% or more.

Among universities, the University of St Andrews came top for overall satisfaction, with 93.3% agreeing they were satisfied, which is a slight improvement from last year. Brighton and Sussex Medical School retained their overall first spot among all institutions with a 95.19% overall satisfaction rate, only a small drop from 96.43% in 2020.

I recognise that the past 18 months have been uniquely difficult for students, and we have set out clear expectations that the quality and quantity of tuition should be maintained

– Michelle Donelan

Leeds Arts University saw the biggest fall from 82.8 to 63.8%. They were followed by Brunel University London, falling from 77.6 to 58.6%, and Bournemouth University, whose satisfaction rate fell from 80.2 to 61.2%. 

The University of Warwick’s overall satisfaction rate fell from 85.13% in 2020 to 83.24% in 2021. Due to the general UK-wide fall in student satisfaction, even with this drop, Warwick has moved from 46th to 13th in the UK and third in the Russell Group for overall student satisfaction. Warwick also ranked first in the Russell Group for Assessment and Feedback.

There were substantial drops in overall satisfaction at several research-heavy universities, including Newcastle University (down from 82.1 to 69.5%), the University of Birmingham (82.8 to 71.9%), and the University of Manchester, which has witnessed multiple instances of student unrest throughout the pandemic (down from 81.1 to 71.4%).

This year’s NSS had 332,500 responses, a response rate of 69%, the same as last year, and only slightly down on 2019 and 2018.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said that while “institutions and lecturers worked hard to move courses online” during the pandemic, there were “important lessons from the different experiences seen by students at different universities and colleges”.

The universities minister, Michelle Donelan, said: “I recognise that the past 18 months have been uniquely difficult for students, and we have set out clear expectations that the quality and quantity of tuition should be maintained.”

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