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Is it worth considering the student satisfaction rating when choosing a university?

By ITS Education Asia

In my job at ITS Education Asia, I meet a lot of Hong Kong students who are considering choosing a university in the UK for their tertiary studies. The vast majority of these students are quite unfamiliar with UK geography and have no family or other ties to a certain place. So when they choose their university choices in UCAS, they tend to base this on factors such as the content of the course they hope to study and the rank or prestige of the university. Now, going abroad to study at tertiary level is a costly business and of course a student will pay as much for a top, highly ranked university as they will for a more modestly ranked institution. For this reason alone, and hoping to get as good a return on their investment as possible, the university’s place on the league tables is often a very important consideration.

But what about the student satisfaction surveys which are published each year? (Top 100 universities for student satisfaction) Should an overseas student also take the information these surveys reveal into consideration when making their choices? Well. I definitely think they should.

Overseas students, especially students from Asia, are a long way from home when in the UK and at the beginning, they are often without much of a support network. It is for this reason that having an idea what to expect and hearing how other students have ranked a university for the satisfaction of those already attending it, is valuable.
Now overall satisfaction at UK universities in general is already very high. This past academic year’s student satisfaction survey was responded to by over 300,000 students and 86% of all respondents were satisfied with the course at their universities. But what does this actually mean? Well, it means that the vast majority of those who responded to the survey felt that their university was delivering the course as they had indicated they would, with the content in the course outline and in an effective and accessible manner using competent staff. This level of overall satisfaction does bode well for students choosing this year as it suggests that, on the whole, university experience in the UK is positive.

It is, however, interesting to note that not one Russell Group university was named in the top 10 of those ranked highest for student satisfaction. And of course Russell Group universities often rank very highly among Hong Kong students who are targeting highly ranked institutions.

So why is satisfaction (relatively) lower at these top universities? Well of course part of the answer is because they are top universities. These sorts of institutions of higher learning are incredibly competitive places, filled with the very best students they can get and so, a lot of students who are admitted to these places, are also very competitive students who have also chosen their programme based on prestige rather than satisfaction. It is quite common to hear anecdotal evidence from tertiary students at these top universities say that they find the place tough, the requirements demanding and the other students less inclined to be supportive due to the rigors and demands of the courses and the place.
This, of course, does not mean that these universities are not good but it does mean that a lot of students who attend these sorts of universities are, on the whole, less happy with their experience than those at universities which are more highly regarded on the student satisfaction survey.

So, to answer my initial question: is it worth considering the student satisfaction survey when making a choice on the UCAS form? The answer is a qualified yes. The fact is that students should take a range of factors into considering when choosing. These should include the content and type of course the student wants to do, the types of university the institution is and its geographical location. All of these are relevant factors as is the knowledge of how pleased other students have been when they chose the university you are considering. After all, a tertiary programme is a commitment of several years’ and you want to make sure of all the factors to ensure your happiness and success in this stage of your life, are available to you.

Dulwich College Singapore

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