Fewer students say degree is ‘good value for money’ amid Covid-19 and strikes

Embargoed to 0930 Friday June 05 File photo dated 16/07/08 of university graduates. Action will be needed to combat the impact of the Covid-

Fewer university students think they are getting their money’s worth because of the Covid-19 pandemic and industrial action, a survey suggests.

The proportion of undergraduate students reporting that their course is good or very good value for money has dropped to 39% from 41% last year, new research has found.

Students, who pay up to £9,250 in tuition fees, say strikes and Covid-19 have had a negative impact on their experience due to a loss of contact hours.

Third-year students had lectures and seminars cancelled in their freshers year and have been hit twice by strikes this academic year. The disruption has prompted demands for tuition fee refunds.

The study, based on a poll of more than 10,000 undergraduates, found students who completed the survey after March 16 – around the time face-to-face teaching was reduced – were less positive in their perceptions of value for money than those surveyed earlier on.

39%

of students said their course is good or very good value for money

As universities move towards a blended approach of online and face-to-face learning amid the pandemic, the majority of students (90%) reported that “basic” technology was used in their teaching.

The 2020 Student Academic Experience Survey found the wellbeing “gap” between students and the rest of the younger population continues to widen.

Fewer university undergraduates are happy and believe their life to be worthwhile – and concerns about the future may have played a part in this.

Only 14% of students said they were very happy in their lives, compared to 18% in 2019 – and 15% of students said they felt their life was highly worthwhile, compared to 17% last year.

Wellbeing levels among the undergraduate population remain “a major concern” and do not appear to be improving despite a focus on tackling this across the sector, the report says.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), which published the survey with Advance HE, said he believed the results on student wellbeing partly reflected “challenges of being young in the current environment” and uncertainty about the graduate job market.

There has never been a more important moment to ask students what they think.

Nick Hillman, director of Hepi

Some groups, such as black, disabled and LGBT+ students, were more likely to report less positive responses about their time at university, the report found.

Fewer than half (45%) of black students said they would choose the same course and university again, compared to more than two in three (68%) of white students, according to the study.

Only 54% of students who went through clearing said they would choose the same course and university.

Mr Hillman acknowledged the finding was not positive. “It’s why we recommend that universities think about the support offered to people who enter through clearing,” he said.

The study also found that the main drivers for students in their decision to go to university were “to get on the career ladder” (53%) and “to follow interest in a subject” (47%).

Compared to last year, students are working harder on their academic studies, the survey suggests, with more weekly contact on average (14.6 hours) and more independent study (14.1 hours).

Mr Hillman said: “There has never been a more important moment to ask students what they think. Over the past year, they have witnessed industrial action, a global health crisis and a much tougher labour market. They have responded in the best way possible, by working harder than in the past.

“Nonetheless, many students are worried about their own lives, with further falls in wellbeing this year.”

A Universities UK (UUK) spokesperson said: “It is understandable that students completing the survey following the wider outbreak of Covid-19 reported less positively than those responding earlier, given the uncertainty and worry the situation caused to many students.

“Universities responded rapidly and the ongoing efforts of institutions and their staff to provide remote teaching and support are ensuring students do not miss out on the opportunity to learn.

“We appreciate at times this may not have been the perfect solution for all students but in this unprecedented situation their health and safety is the top priority.”

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said: “It is clear that the impact of Covid-19 has, understandably, negatively impacted the experience of some students.

“As universities prepare for next year, operating in what may be a different learning environment, it is essential that they offer a high quality education for all students, regardless of background.”