Choosing a university

Top universities for student satisfaction [2012-13]

By Rebecca Hughes (Digital content producer, Which? University) - 17 December 2012

Students in a supervision - Source: University of Oxford, Rob Judges

Want to go to a university with great teaching, strong academic support and top learning resources? Flick through any university prospectus and it's unlikely you'll find one that says it doesn't offer those things - it can be trickier to find out what things are really like on the ground.

That's where student satisfaction scores can help, offering an insight into how students rated their experience. We've rounded up the universities that impressed most in the latest survey - plus take a look at our college and specialist college student satisfaction round-ups.

UPDATE: take a look at our 2013-14 survey findings to see the current top universities for student satisfaction.

Shiny happy students

The National Student Survey (NSS) asks final-year students to reflect on various aspects of their student learning experience, including assessment and feedback, personal development and how well the course is organised, and give an overall rating.

From this student satisfaction rating we calculate a mean average student score per university based on how students as a whole responded. Here are the top performers in the 2012 NSS - plus high-climbing universities that made significant improvements on their 2011 scores.

1. Institute of Education, University of London: 89%

Part of the University of London umbrella, the IOE is a specialist research school offering the UK's largest selection of courses for education studies and related social studies.

  • Student experience: campus, specialist university school, central London, approx 8,000 students

2. University of Cambridge: 89%

Cambridge is a collegiate university made up of 31 colleges. The student experience centres around the college you go to - you live, eat, socialise and study there. Academic time usually takes place in small group tutorials known as supervisions.
  • Student experience: collegiate, research-led, historic, approx 20,000 students

3. University of Oxford: 87%

Also a collegiate university, Oxford has 38 colleges. Teaching here is also characterised by its typically small group supervisions.
  • Student experience: collegiate, research-led, historic, approx 25,000 students

4. Open University: 87% 

A distance learning university, Open University students can study from home at their own pace, with access to online support from tutors and study facilities in their own region. 
  • Student experience: supported distance learning, independent study, flexible, approx 250,000 students across the UK

5. Heriot-Watt University: 85%

Heriot-Watt is a campus university  with multiple sites across Scotland - and even one in Dubai. Its particular focus is on business and industry. It's also one of the most improved universities for student satisfaction from last year (see below).
  • Student experience at Heriot-Watt: campus, Edinburgh city, approx 11,000 students

5. Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London: 85% 

In joint fifth place, the Central School of Speech and Drama is a drama school with an emphasis on practical training as well as academic study.
  • Student experience at Central: specialist university school, central London, creative, approx 900 students

High-climbing universities

  • Queen's University Belfast climbed up from 81st to 27th place this year, receiving a satisfaction rating of 81%.
  • Heriot Watt University climbed from 34th to 5th place this year, thanks to its 5% improvement.

NSS unwrapped

While the NSS gives you an indication of 'satisfaction',  it won't necessarily tell you the full picture. Bear in mind that:

  • There may be big variations at a course, subject or faculty level
  • It's subjective - views will be affected by the student's individual circumstances
  • No point of comparison - students have usually only had experience of one university

It's a good idea to head to an open day to speak directly to tutors and students - that way you'll hear from the horse's mouth what a typical lecture is like, for instance, or what you can expect in the way of constructive feedback on your assignments.

See all universities and colleges ranked by their student score - and take a look at real-life student views included on our university profiles so you can see what students really think about universities you're interested in.
 

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