Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 15:06 UK

Student satisfaction rate 'slips'

The survey compiles opinions on a range of factors

This year's final year students in England were marginally less happy with their university experience than last year's leavers, an annual survey shows.

The National Student Survey shows 81% were mostly or definitely satisfied with the quality of their course, against 82% last year.

In Wales the rating was unchanged, 83%, and in Northern Ireland up one at 84%.

Twelve Scottish institutions also took part, achieving the highest overall score of 86%, the same as in 2008.

The National Union of Students noted that those leaving this year had been the first to pay "top-up" tuition fees.

NUS president Wes Streeting said: "Tuition fees in England were trebled in 2006, but students have not seen a demonstrable improvement in the quality of their experience.

"Universities have a responsibility to deliver substantial improvements in return for the huge increase in income they are receiving from fees."

In Northern Ireland, where top-up fees began at the same time, three of the four higher education institutions saw improved ratings. That for Queen's went down.

Response rate down

The survey results are compiled by England's higher education funding council.

Detailed results for every institution will be published on the website next month.

The funding council and university groups drew attention to the fact that a few thousand more students had participated in the survey.

But there were more students in the system - and in fact the rate of participation fell from 65% in 2008 to 62%.

A consultants' report on the 2008 survey process for Hefce noted that the response rates across the UK were regarded as high.

"The average response rates for the NSS across the UK have been rising steadily from 56% at its introduction in 2005 to 65% in 2008," it said.

Individual ratings

Notably the University of Oxford fell out of the published lists in 2009 because its response rate was below the 50% threshold.

Topping the overall satisfaction table was Medway School of Pharmacy, on 97%, with Brighton and Sussex Medical School on 95% and the Open University on 94%.

The private University of Buckingham achieved 92% while of the big mainstream universities, St Andrews achieved 92% and Cambridge and Leicester each had 91%.

Among the risers was the University of York, up four percentage points in overall satisfaction to 89%.

Among the bigger fallers was Middlesex University, down six points at 69%, and the University of Essex, down five at 80%.

At the lower end of the table were a number of new universities, with financially troubled London Metropolitan University had an overall score of 68%.

Only the University for the Creative Arts and University of the Arts London came lower, on 64% and 63% respectively.

Standards concerns

England's Universities Minister David Lammy said the results showed that that the UK's higher education system was continuing to provide a "quality experience" for students.

The chief executive of the vice-chancellors' organisation Universities UK, Diana Warwick, said: "We're pleased that so many students continue to rate their higher education experience so highly.

"It is particularly reassuring that, at a time of economic uncertainty when students may be understandably anxious about their job prospects (as new graduates), nevertheless the overall satisfaction rate remains over 80%."

She said universities would be taking action and making improvements in response to what their students were telling them.

Shadow Minister for Higher Education John Hayes said: "Students are paying much more in fees but they are not more satisfied with their courses - these results suggest student satisfaction is actually deteriorating."

He added: "If we are going to face up to the big challenges on standards, the student experience and widening access, we need a full review of the tuition fees system as soon as possible."

The annual student survey has been published just after a critical report on higher education in England by a Commons select committee.

This said, universities were failing to safeguard degree standards and the current system for ensuring quality was "out of date and should be replaced".

"Inconsistency in standards is rife," said the committee chairman, Phil Willis.

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