With higher costs and the growing importance of securing a good grade, students are demanding better value for money from their courses. So what are students looking for and what changes can be made by universities to meet expectations?
Under the current funding model in England, students are investing unprecedented levels of money in their higher education. Surely it is only fair to expect institutions to do the same in return. Is University spending driven by the need to compete in university league tables or the learning experience and quality of the graduates they produce? Maybe the balance of power is set to change in favour of the student.
What we do know is the Higher education sector is seeing big and growing differences across the UK due to varying fee structures. Whilst the UK’s National Student Survey 2014 results show overall student satisfaction levels at a record high, this year’s survey was a bit more revealing than earlier ones because it displayed the first comprehensive picture of those students paying £9,000 to attend English higher education institutions. Students in Scotland (Northern Ireland and Wales) generally think they are getting good value for money while students in England are paying much more but receiving only a little more. In England, one in three students say they are getting poor value for money - nearly twice as high as before the new fees were introduced. The same survey also found 31% who said they would definitely or maybe have chosen another course if they were to have their time again.
When asked by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) what their top three priorities would be for institutional expenditure- 48% of UK students polled said "reducing fee levels", followed by having more teaching hours and reducing the size of teaching groups (both 35%). Lesson learnt – be careful what question you ask as you may not like the answer!
What do recent HE reports tell us about student expectations and perceptions of higher education?
Whilst the ‘value for money’ debate will no doubt continue in the corridors of power and across Student Union bars for some time yet, Universities do need to get to grips with these issues:
Students are not who they used to be. They are savvy, demanding and want to be treated as customers.
Record tuition fees, growing student debt combined with shrinking financial and educational returns are all challenging the traditional perception that a university education is a good investment.
If nothing changes then maybe the time has come for our children to skip higher education altogether - move out of home, get a job, pay their own way while they still know everything!