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Opening up the treasure trove of student feedback

Every year the Whatuni team collects student reviews to give a deeper understanding of the experiences of students. Aaron Porter digs into this year's treasure trove.
This article is more than 4 years old

Aaron Porter is Director of Partnerships at Wonkhe

Hearing the voices of students to reflect on their experience is crucial to understand what the higher education sector is doing well, and what can be improved.

Six years ago, the Whatuni team started to collect student reviews to give us a deeper understanding of the experiences of students both inside and outside the classroom.

Year on year we have grown our review collection, and this year we have collected and verified over 40,000 student reviews from current students. We are sitting on a treasure trove of student feedback which provides invaluable guidance to support institutions enhancement, but also helps prospective students to determine the courses and institutions which would be the best fit for them.

Our reviews are collected across twelve main categories where we ask students to rate (out of five) their satisfaction with the following: job prospects, courses and lecturers, students’ union, accommodation, facilities, city life, clubs and societies, student support and giving back.

We also have separate categories for students studying at an FE college or at an independent provider (although the samples are smaller here, so we have left them out of this analysis), for institutions with the most satisfied international students and postgraduates, and finally a category for overall satisfaction.


The 2019 results – sum greater than the parts

The headline results for 2019 show that overall satisfaction scores an impressive 4.04 (nudging up from 4.01 in the previous year). And once more, the overall category (university of the year) has the highest mean score of any category, suggesting that students have higher regard for their experience as a whole compared to the component parts.

Changes over time

The table below shows how some of the major categories have fared over time. All of the categories have increased from 2018 to 2019 (albeit by no more than 0.08), with the exception of clubs and societies which has slipped back slightly (3.77 to 3.69). A consistent trend across these 5 years show that the overall and facilities categories with the strongest scores, with lower scores in the students’ unions and clubs and societies category.

Regional differences – the Welsh are winning

After strong results in the past two years, students studying in Wales are now the outright most satisfied students. The chart below compares the satisfaction for students in Wales, England and Scotland across 5 major categories, with Welsh students most satisfied.

What’s in a mission?

By mission group we see different strengths in different areas. Whilst students at Russell Group universities have much greater satisfaction with the clubs and societies on offer, the scores around course and lecturers are much closer (with Million Plus institutions narrowly ahead). The scores for the student support category, showed that students in the University Alliance had the greatest satisfaction with these services.

Lessons learned

Student feedback presents such a valuable resource to help continue to enhance what is offered in our higher education providers, and each institution will want to take the time to analyse the scores and read the comments of their students. These reviews deliberately consider the experience both inside and outside of the classroom, both of which are crucial to defining the experiences of students.

Our analysis does show that the category which has the strong positive correlation with overall satisfaction is in the category for course and lecturers, this is perhaps unsurprising. But understanding how the various component parts come together is crucial to seeing continual improvement.

Given some of the poor reviews the higher education sector has had in the press from external commentators over the last couple of years, it should be heartening that the reviews from our students are still on the whole incredibly positive.

And there’s more

There’s additional analysis and some striking data visualisations of the results up on the IDP Connect site.

2 responses to “Opening up the treasure trove of student feedback

  1. This is a really interesting piece, Aaron, thank you. Is there a way of drilling down into the underlying data by University for years prior to 2019 to enable us to pinpoint trends? The download button in this article allows for an excel spreadsheet download of the underlying data itself for 2019 and it would be great to access this for earlier years also (in addition to the PDF infographic).

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