More students see university degrees as poor value for money


The proportion of students who do not think university is value for money has almost doubled in the last five years.

A new survey shows a steady decline in the percentages who think getting a degree is a good deal since 2012 - with those from ethnic minority backgrounds least likely to be happy.

It also suggests that the majority of students believe going to university has not fully met their expectations.

The findings of the latest annual Student Academic Experience Survey come as student funding, and the future of tuition fees, finds its way back in the spotlight as a General Election issue.

The study, which questioned more than 14,000 undergraduates, found that 34% rate their degree course as poor value for money, compared to 18% who said the same in 2012 - the year that tuition fees in England were trebled to £9,000.

In comparison, 35% of students said their course was good value, down from 53% five years ago.

A breakdown shows that in England alone, the proportions that rated their degree as good value for money has dropped from around 50% in 2012 to 32% this year.

In general, while just over a third (36%) of white students said their course was good value, this dropped to 33% among black students, 29% among Chinese students and 25% for those from an Asian background.

Undergraduates from non-white backgrounds also had less positive opinions of teaching quality and the access they have to academic staff.

The study, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute and the Higher Education Academy, says students' views on value are a concern, but that the downward trend did not suggest a decline in the quality of education.

It adds: "It does point towards value being linked to a complex combination of factors, not least a gradual change in what students expect from their experience given the level of fees being charged."

Overall, 51% of those polled said that their university experience had been better than expected in some ways and worse in others, while 13% said it had been worse and 25% said it had been better than expected.

There are a range of reasons why students' expectations may not have been met, the report says, with students often critical of their own efforts.

Around a third of those who said university had not lived up to expectations blamed themselves, saying they had not put in enough effort.

Students living on their own - such as those that live at home - were more likely to say their experience had been worse than expected.

Around two thirds (65%) of students said that they had learnt "a lot" since starting their course, with those that lived at home less likely to agree with this statement than those who lived with others (61% compared to 70%).

The study also found evidence that students are more satisfied with fewer contact hours than they were last year - this may be partly because universities are getting better at explaining to students about the lectures and seminars they will get and the work they should be doing, the authors said.

HEPI director Nick Hillman said: "The survey proves beyond doubt that the student experience differs depending on ethnicity, the type of accommodation and sexual orientation. Such factors have a direct impact on how engaged students are with their studies as well as on their overall quality of life.

"For a truly great academic experience, we need to think ever more deeply about how to respond to the individual characteristics of each student.

"The election has seen a lively battle for student votes. The survey shows students want universities to provide information on where fees go, taxpayers to cover more of the costs and policymakers to provide stronger arguments for future fee rises."

While the Conservatives are expected to keep tuition fees and loans, they have promised a review of post-school education funding, while Labour has pledged to scrap fees.