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17 August 2011

Eight out of 10 higher education students give their courses top marks

The satisfaction rate for students studying at UK higher education institutions (HEIs) and further education colleges (FECs) remains high, with 83 per cent saying they are satisfied overall with their course in this year's National Student Survey (NSS). A further 8 per cent were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their higher education experience; and only 9 per cent were dissatisfied.

In each of the seven categories covered by the survey, satisfaction has either improved since 2010 or stayed the same. In particular, staff were felt to be doing a good job: 84 per cent of students were satisfied with the quality of teaching on their courses and 77 per cent were satisfied with the academic support they received.

Around 265,000 final-year students responded to the survey this year, from 154 HEIs and 99 FECs from across the UK (Note 1). This represents a response rate of 65 per cent, the highest rate in the seven years that the NSS has been running.

The results of the survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI, provide valuable information for prospective students, and help universities and colleges to further improve the education they provide.

A summary table of results is shown below. More detailed data are available on the Unistats web-site which gives data on all students in the survey.

2011 National Student Survey results for the UK

Questions 2010 NSS 2011 NSS
satisfied neither satisfied nor dissatisfied dissatisfied satisfied neither satisfied nor dissatisfied dissatisfied
1-4 The teaching on my course 83% 10% 6% 84% 10% 6%
5-9 Assessment and feedback 66% 16% 17% 68% 16% 16%
10-12 Academic support 75% 14% 11% 77% 13% 10%
13-15 Organisation and management 73% 13% 14% 75% 12% 13%
16-18 Learning resources 80% 11% 10% 80% 11% 9%
29-21 Personal development 79% 15% 6% 80% 14% 6%
22 Overall satisfaction 82% 9% 9% 83% 8% 9%

Percentages may not sum due to rounding

New for 2011: benchmarked data

This year, for the first time, benchmarks indicating sector comparisons for Question 22 ('Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course') are being published. This follows research showing NSS results cannot be reliably compared across institutions, without taking account of the mix of students and subjects. Certain groups of students consistently report lower levels of satisfaction – such as some ethnic groups (although there has been some improvement over time) and older students.

Benchmarks take account of these issues and make for a more reliable and robust comparison between institutions, otherwise the data would show lower results for universities and colleges that happen to have large numbers of particular types of student. Benchmarks are not targets, but simply a more reliable way of comparing institutions’ performance.

The 'raw' results for Question 22, including indicators that show whether institutions have achieved significantly above or below their benchmark, are also being published (Note 5).

HEFCE Chief Executive, Sir Alan Langlands, said:

'These excellent results yet again demonstrate that our universities and colleges provide a high-quality experience for their students. That said, there is no room for complacency. The survey provides vital information to inform students' choices – and with changes in financing of higher education, we can be sure the NSS will only grow in importance. The results also provide crucial information for universities and colleges to help them improve the learning and teaching experiences of their students.'

Professor Janet Beer, chair of the NSS steering group and Vice-Chancellor, Oxford Brookes University, said:

'As the Chair of the steering group which oversees the development of more accessible and better quality information for prospective students and their families, it is very pleasing to have the highest response rates ever from current students, ensuring that the NSS is a really good barometer of their opinion. The continuation of the steady upward trend in satisfaction is testament to the dedication in the sector to the improvement of the student experience.'

Minister for Universities, David Willetts, said:

'This survey shows that student satisfaction is high on average. This is welcome news. No wonder record numbers of young people at home and abroad wish to study at our world-class universities.

'But clearly there are some areas, such as the quality of feedback, where many institutions could do better. Our higher education reforms aim to put students in the driving seat and to deliver a new focus on the quality of the student experience.

'We are committed to ensuring the best possible match between students and institutions. We will improve the information available about different courses, make universities more accountable to their students and promote more diverse provision.'

Liam Burns, National President of the National Union of Students, said:

'The National Student Survey is an important tool for identifying areas of concern amongst students. It is crucial that institutions work in partnership with students to make improvements where they have been shown to be necessary.

'The results show only very slight increases in overall student satisfaction, and at a time of severe funding pressures it is more important than ever that students are involved in shaping their curriculum to ensure progress is made in the future. After years of work by students and students' unions it's good to see some modest improvement in assessment and feedback scores.'


  1. The NSS covers nearly all final-year undergraduates studying for higher education qualifications at HEIs (including the independent University of Buckingham) and FECs in England and Wales, HEIs in Northern Ireland and 14 institutions in Scotland (listed below). Students on initial teacher training courses funded by the Training and Development Agency for Schools, and students studying NHS-funded subjects are also included. The threshold for publication is that at least 23 students from each course must have responded at each institution, and that these represent at least half the students eligible to participate.
  2. The 14 (out of a total of 19) Scottish higher education institutions that took part in the 2011 NSS are:
    • University of Aberdeen
    • University of Edinburgh
    • University of Dundee
    • Edinburgh Napier University
    • Glasgow School of Art
    • Queen Margaret University
    • Glasgow Caledonian University
    • University of Glasgow
    • Robert Gordon University
    • University of Strathclyde
    • Heriot-Watt University
    • University of St Andrews
    • University of Stirling
    • University of the West of Scotland
  3. The NSS results are available on the Unistats web-site from 17 August 2011 and will be useful to prospective students, their families and advisors. Unistats is developed and maintained by UCAS and Hotcourses.
  4. The Higher Education Academy works with departments and institutions in using the NSS constructively for the enhancement of the student experience. Over the last few years the Academy has undertaken a broad range of work in this area including research, an NSS institutional working group, a conference on annual surveys and disciplinary-based support via the subject centres.
  5. Summary data from the survey and results from the survey question on overall satisfaction are available. HEFCE does not publish league tables. The data are available sorted alphabetically by institution.