How student reviews can help us understand students

Jonah Duffin highlights the role student reviews can play in understanding the wider issues students are facing

Jonah Duffin is Global Director of External Relations at IDP

Any number of reports and any amount of anecdotal evidence suggests that the 2022-23 academic year is a difficult one for students.

We’ve all heard, for example, that student attendance is down at seminars and lectures – both online and in person. We know that rises in the cost of living make it difficult to afford to eat well, to rent suitable accommodation, to commute to campus, and to fund everything from the purchase of resources and textbooks to the social aspects of the student experience. The energy crisis adds another layer of problems.

In times like this it is vital that providers are able to get a comprehensive view of how students are managing, and where support could be provided, as quickly as possible. This is also a financially difficult year for many universities – the value of fee income is dropping quickly as inflation rises, and those same cost of living pressures make it more expensive to do pretty much anything – so support for students needs to be carefully planned and targeted.

How do we know?

One way to get a quick overview of student experiences are the reviews submitted to the 2023 Whatuni Student Choice Awards (WUCAS). With 10 years of data, and around 40,000 reviews collected annually through online and in person review collection, the WUCAS gathers real-time feedback from current students at all years of undergraduate and postgraduate study to temperature check attitudes across a range of features of the student experience including teaching, facilities, student support, accommodation, career prospects and the students’ union. The purpose of the WUSCAS is to help institutions identify areas of strength, but also to use the feedback to identify areas for improvement.

Unsurprisingly the 2022 reviews showed a dip in satisfaction (81.6 per cent satisfaction in 2022, compared to 84 per cent in 2020 just before Covid-19 hit). This was a cohort of students who had their studies disrupted by covid and for those who were graduating they were entering a challenging labour market. However, there were some causes for optimism as students actually rated their facilities and accommodation higher than prior to the pandemic.

As we begin collecting the reviews for 2023, there will be keen attention on issues of overall satisfaction, teaching, and student support. Interestingly in the last few years, students at smaller more specialist institutions have typically fared better across most categories, and this was capped off with University College Birmingham (87.6 per cent) securing the most satisfied students overall, piping Nottingham Trent (87.4 per cent) and the University of Sheffield (87.2 per cent) to the post.

Timely information

Because students in all years of study fill in reviews, it also allows institutions to take action before the final undergraduates complete the National Student Survey – which itself focuses narrowly on the student academic experience. Reviews are hugely important in supporting applicants for courses at all levels (via our WhatUni service), but the real time feedback on strengths and weaknesses has proved valuable to providers too.

For the first time this year we will be providing a benchmarked overview of scores in December to all institutions who have engaged with review collection ahead of the awards ceremony in the spring.

We have taken the collection digital for the first time this year and have a playbook to guide institutions in how best to collect reviews. And once again we have a team of review collectors travelling the length and breadth of the UK collecting reviews on tablets and phones.

The Whatuni team are keen to work with providers across the UK to ensure we are reaching as many of your students as possible, so do please reach out if you would like to support your students being able to provide feedback. We are also happy to provide presentations to analyse the feedback from your students and how they benchmark against others in the sector, and we’d be delighted to hear from you.stuyd

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