Students are at the heart of everything we do in education and so it goes without saying that their satisfaction matters. But what do students really care about? Of course, what’s vital to one person may just be a nice-to-have for another, so it’s impossible to definitively rank factors affecting student satisfaction. But research such as the National Student Survey in the UK, US College Ranking and Studyportals give us some insight into what’s important to today’s students.

Programme Quality 

The Studyportals Global Student Satisfaction Report 2019 surveyed 45.000 domestic and international students from higher education institutions in over 150 countries. The findings show, unsurprisingly, that programme quality is one of the most important factors for students both studying abroad and in their own country (source). On a scale of 1-5, 42% of respondents rated their university 4 for programme quality and 32% gave a score of 5. For those who scored their universities highly, they listed important factors as “great teaching, quality lectures and seminars, practical classes that help students gain relevant experience, instructors that can easily explain and illustrate complex concepts, as well as the quality of the course materials in terms of case studies or other resources available to students” (source).

Only 6% of those surveyed felt that their programme quality was poor. Reasons for low scores included “outdated curriculum or study methods, focusing on memorising rather than understanding, or in some cases being offered a basic or unchallenging curriculum instead of the quality education they had originally expected” (source).

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Cost of Living

The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education College Rankings 2020 surveyed 170.000 students across the USA. The survey asked students to say whether or not they were satisfied with various aspects of their experience covering classroom factors, human factors and career opportunities. If they were satisfied, the university scored a point and if they weren’t, a point was deducted giving a final scale of -1 to +1 for each category.

The only categories with a negative average score were cost of living, scoring -0.28, and financial aid which scored -0.13 (source). However, the individual universities that did score well were those with assistance schemes, such as the United States Naval Academy which pays students’ tuition fees, bed and board, and other costs. Similarly, Yale, which has a generous financial aid package with almost half of all students receiving support, scored 0.25 for financial aid.

Class Sizes

In contrast, class size had the highest average score with 0.69, closely followed by academic support (0.49), classroom and teaching facilities (0.47) and course content (0.42). This suggests that, overall, students in the United States are satisfied with the academic factors of their student experience, which aligns with the findings of the international Studyportals research.

Clear communication

The UK National Student Survey (NSS) 2020 surveyed over 300.000 students in the UK and revealed that, overall, 83% of students are satisfied with their university or college course (source). However, when it comes to course organisation and communication, 75% felt that changes in the course and teaching were communicated effectively and 67% believed that their course was running smoothly. These factors are down a few percentage points from the previous year, which is not necessarily due to the pandemic since small year-to-year fluctuations in the results are common.

However, given the context of COVID and the multitude of changes in teaching and learning that have come with it, clear communication and course organisation are increasingly important. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students says “Now more than ever, the survey results demonstrate how important it is for universities to communicate changes effectively, run courses as smoothly as possible, and listen carefully to student feedback. This is even more important in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.” (source)

Fair assessment

The NSS also revealed that satisfaction with assessment was comparatively lower than other areas covered in the survey. 72% felt that marking and assessment were fair and that they received feedback promptly (source). However, this has risen consistently in recent years, with 64% of students in 2008 reporting that they were satisfied with fair assessments and timely feedback.

This suggests that, while students feel that assessment has improved in the past 13 years, there is still some way to go to bring assessment satisfaction in line with other areas of the student experience. When it comes to developing fair assessment practices, e-assessment solutions can aid accessibility and authenticity, as well as facilitate quicker grading in comparison with paper exams.

If you want to find out more about digital assessment and how it can improve student satisfaction, our toolkit is a great place to start. This free collection of curated resources explores assessment with a focus on student experience. Discover the results of our 2021 Student Satisfaction Survey, webinars, practicals guides and testimonials.