Student happiness comes with a price

The latest UK National Student Survey, published in 2017, found that 84% of students were satisfied with their course. The respondents agreed that they were provided with’ learning opportunities such as exploring ideas or concepts in depth and applying what they had learnt’. This figure rose from 81.4% in 2007 so a slight increase. However, the relationship between students and their places of learning 20 years ago appears very different.

Student happiness and university

I was delighted to go to university and had a fantastic time there but no one ever asked me if I was happy with the teaching or the course; there were certainly no surveys. We had some poor lecturers from time to time but we never questioned our grades – maybe some work was not always returned so promptly… but the onus was on us to do succeed.

Today, universities share the same obsession with customer satisfaction as every other consumer-led business. Students can certainly still have a great time while they are studying but the Marketing and PR departments are keen to find out about their satisfaction through feedback and questionnaires. They also have massive advertising campaigns to attract future students and need those high figures.

Contemporary, fee-paying students are consumers and expect lectures to be designed for their personal needs. They fill out surveys and tick boxes about their levels of satisfaction for everything from their last lecture to the colour of their student union café. They want high grades and 24/7 access to their tutors.

Students and university advertising standards

A recent article in The Guardian newspaper claimed that some universities, in selling themselves in the new competitive market, are under examination from the Advertising Standards Authority for making dubious statements. Most of the claims concern their global ranking which they have extrapolated from various league tables.

Other declarations include Liverpool John Moores University failing to make it clear that its ‘university of the year’ award was a regional, northern title while the University of Bedfordshire claimed it provided gold standard teaching when its latest rating was silver.

In a world of fake news and false claims, universities are as liable to be as mischievous as any other global company seeking to attract consumers. Students, in taking out large loans to pay for their degrees are, of course, increasing the pressure on their preferred institutions and must decide whether going to university is really worth the ‘debt’ in the first place


With twenty years’ experience as an international journalist and travel writer, Jon Bryant has written for The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer and The Times. He also teaches journalism at the EDJ in Nice, France. He is the co-author of the Financial literacy book for children ‘It Doesn’t Grow On Trees’.