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What do student satisfaction scores really tell you?

Student satisfaction scores give you a flavour for what final-year students think about their university experience. Here NUS explain what student satisfaction scores do and don’t tell you…

Our friends from NUS are on hand to delve deep into the data to explain what student satisfaction scores do (and don't) tell you...

National Student Survey

Students are regularly surveyed during their time at university, and this information is used by both universities and students’ unions to enhance the quality of the student experience. There is an annual independent national survey (called the National Student Survey or NSS for short) which takes place each year and asks final year undergraduate students to say how satisfied they were in a range of academic areas, from teaching to personal development opportunities.

For this information to be published, 50% of students on the course needed to have responded to the survey which means that the data is reasonably reliable.

The scores are in...

On Which? University you'll see 'student scores', which are calculated using NSS data, along with an indication of whether the score is high, medium or low in comparison to different universities. These are a good way of quickly seeing if, overall, the university gets the thumbs up from current students.

You'll also see student satisfaction ratings, which is the percentage of students who said they were 'very' or 'quite' satisfied with their course overall. For each subject where there's data available, you can see a breakdown of various questions asked in the survey, including student views on topics like:
  • receiving feedback on work from tutors
  • facilities including library and IT
  • how interesting staff make the subject.

Get the full story from students

Statistics are often easy to manipulate into positive publicity and so although this data will be a useful indicator of what students really think about the course they are on, it will never be a replacement for going to an open day to speaking to current students face to face. Also bear in mind:
  • It's subjective: an individual student's opinion will be affected be all sorts of personal factors, not necessarily related to the university
  • No point of comparison: of course, most students won't have been to more than one university, so only have one experience to go on
  • University-wide ratings: the experience might be very different between subjects and departments on the ground.

Other student surveys

You may also come across student satisfaction data from other sources which are usually internal surveys that the university or students’ union undertakes.

The response rate for these types of surveys is normally much lower than the NSS but they may ask more specific questions about their student experience.
 

Next:

Which? University provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from the National Union of Students (NUS), a confederation of 600 students' unions representing the interests of more than seven million students.

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