Students ‘want more insight into tuition fees’

75 per cent of students feel they do not have enough information. Picture: Colin Hattersley
75 per cent of students feel they do not have enough information. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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A “WHOPPING” three quarters of students believe universities do not give them enough information about how tuition fees are spent, according to research.

The study also found that more than a third of students would potentially have chosen a different course in hindsight, and thousands say they do not feel supported in their independent study which is seen as the hallmark of higher education.

The importance that students put on their teachers being trained to teach is also highlighted.

These are among the key findings of the 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) in which more than 15,000 undergraduates were surveyed.

It found that overall, the vast majority of students - 87 per cent - are fairly or very satisfied with the overall quality of their course.

For the first time, this year’s survey asked about the information provided by institutions to students on how their tuition fees are spent.

Just 18 per cent of respondents feel they have sufficient enough information on this, while 75 per cent said they do not - 44 per cent said “definitely not”, while 31 per cent said “probably not”.

Nick Hillman, director at HEPI, said: “The most striking new finding is that a whopping three-quarters of undergraduates want more information about where their fees go.

“Providing this is coming to look like an inevitable consequence of relying so heavily on student loans. If it doesn’t happen soon, it could be forced on universities by policymakers.”

Overall, 41 per cent of students in the UK think they have received good or very good value for money, while 29 per cent feel the value for money has been poor or very poor.

But only 7 per cent of English students feel they receive very good value for money, compared with 35 per cent of Scottish students in Scotland.

The research found that full-time undergraduates in UK universities have high levels of satisfaction - 87 per cent are fairly or very satisfied with their course.

However, 34 per cent say they would definitely or maybe have chosen another course if they were to have their time again, although there were substantial variations by subject.

When asked to explain why their experience was worse than expected or better in some ways and worse in others, students’ top response - chosen by 36 per cent of respondents - was that they had not put in enough effort themselves.

And 32 per cent said the course was poorly organised, 30 per cent said they had few contact hours than they were expecting and 29 per cent said they did not feel supported in their independent study.

Professor Stephanie Marshall, chief executive at HEA, said: “It is important to note the relatively high numbers who do not feel supported in independent study.

“We know that the skills developed through independent study are important to employers and to lifelong learning. Providing guidance and structure outside timetabled sessions is key here.”

Another key finding relates to the importance that students put on their teachers in higher education being trained to teach.

When asked to rank the importance of three characteristics of the people who teach them, a higher proportion of students rated staff having been trained in how to teach (39 per cent) and having professional or industry expertise (44 per cent) as the number one priority, rather than staff being active researchers (17 per cent).

Prof Marshall said: “We believe that training for those who teach in higher education is key. The fact that students highlight its importance gives the HEA’s work to promote professional standards even greater significance.”

While contact hours on their own have been shown not to be a good measure of the quality of learning, students with fewer scheduled hours are more likely to say they would have chosen another course if they could have their time again - 38 per cent of undergraduates on 0 to nine contact hours versus 28 per cent for those on 30 or more contact hours.

They also have worse perceptions of value for money: for students in England on the £9,000 fees regime, only 26 per cent of those with 0 to nine contact hours feel they receive good or very good value for money compared to 56 per cent of those with more than 30 contact hours.

Students who do less academic work in total score less highly on wellbeing too - 43 per cent of students who spend fewer than 10 hours a week on their academic work feel the things they do in their lives are worthwhile, compared to 78 per cent of those who work for at least 50 hours a week.

The results confirm the findings from last year that undergraduates are less satisfied, less happy and have less of a sense that what they are doing is worthwhile than the general population, even of a similar age group.

For example, when asked to plot how happy they felt yesterday on a scale of 0 to 10 - where 0 is “not at all” and 10 is “completely” - 62 per cent of students put themselves between 7 and 10, compared with 73 per cent of the general population and 72 per cent of young people aged 20 to 24.

Mr Hillman added: “This suggests good support services, including counselling, should be a priority despite the impending cuts.”

Asked what areas they would most prefer their university to save money on, 46 per cent of students said spending less on sport and social facilities and 45 per cent said spending less on buildings.

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the university think-tank million+, said the Government “needs to be cautious” about further cuts to student support in light of the survey if it is to keep students and their families on side.

“This survey confirms that there is a clear link between higher education funding systems and student perceptions about value for money,” she said.

“It is hardly surprising that university students in England feel that they have received less value for money than their counterparts in Scotland bearing in mind the differences in fee regimes.”

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “With tuition fees approaching £9,000 a year, it’s hardly surprising that students are demanding more from their university experience and want to see value for money.

“We want the Government to improve the information that has to be provided to students as soon as possible to allow them to make a more informed choice.”