A secondary school culture in which students resit exams to improve scores may be making them dissatisfied with higher education, universities say.
The biggest concerns involve assessment and feedback
In the annual National Student Survey, 81% of final year UK undergraduates were happy with their courses overall, but 62% with assessment and feedback.
Among institutions, the Open University again achieved the highest rating. It was followed by St Andrews.
But independent Buckingham said it was top using a different methodology.
The survey forms part of the Teaching Quality Information (TQI) website for those contemplating higher education.
The data will be part of a replacement website of information for students and parents, Unistats.com, to be launched publicly soon.
The survey was taken by 177,000 students out of 290,000, a response rate of 60%.
It covers full-time and part-time undergraduates in publicly-funded higher education institutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Eight Scottish institutions also chose to take part.
Students were asked to what extent they agreed with statements under six headings: teaching, assessment and feedback, academic support, organisation and management, learning resources and personal development.
The weakest responses related to assessment and feedback.
In Scotland, which came out worst on this criterion, only 48% definitely or mostly agreed that feedback on their work had been prompt and had helped to clarify things they did not understand.
Universities say they recognise this as an area in which they need to improve and are working on expanding good practice in some schools and departments.
The chair of the National Student Survey steering group, Leeds vice-chancellor Prof Michael Arthur, said part of the problem was the expectation raised by students' schooling.
Even when academics provided what they thought was detailed feedback, students did not necessarily perceive it as such.
"A theory is that there is really quite a significant difference between the type of assessment and feedback that occurs earlier in life through your secondary education and that that occurs at university," he said.
"There are multiple opportunities to resit assessments to improve your score. Universities don't usually work in that way."
National Union of Students vice-president Wes Streeting said he did not think students expected to have their hands held, they knew university was about independent learning.
But it was important to "signpost" the steps along the way for them.
There was "almost a need for a debate" about how higher education was delivered in "a mass system", he said.
A final statement in the survey was: "Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course".
The complaint from Buckingham, the country's only independent university, is that using this measure is "partial" and "inconsistent".
"We regret it," the university said in a statement.
"Naturally we congratulate the Open University on coming top of that scale, but we believe that a scale that incorporates all 21 or 22 questions is more accurate and more useful to students."
Instead, Buckingham, aggregated the results from the other 21 questions.
The body which represents university leaders - Universities UK - welcomed the results of the survey.
Its president, Professor Rick Trainor, said: "We're pleased to see student satisfaction levels remain high for a second year in a row in this year's National Student Survey.
"Higher education institutions work incredibly hard to improve provision for students each year, supported this year by the new funding from variable fees."