To some, ‘student satisfaction’ means one thing, but to others, it means something completely different. With the student experience being made up of so many different areas, maybe it’s time to unify the definition of student satisfaction and consider its critical role in the fight against the student mental health crisis.
Written by Sam Appleyard
What Does The Term ‘Student Satisfaction’ Mean To You?
To me, as a former student, it means: how much I enjoyed my university experience; how much the different areas of my life during my studies had a positive impact on me and helped me to grow. Be that from my studies, my employment, or my social life. However, for those in the higher education (HE) sector it’s much more constrained than that.
You can find the term student satisfaction used as one of the main parameters in national university league tables like The Guardian or The Complete University Guide. The National Student Survey determines this satisfaction. The survey assesses how satisfied students are with their studies… and only their studies.
Now, these league tables are a fantastic tool; used by universities to track their performance each year with academic satisfaction being a staple factor. With that being said, it must be noted that the tables are also a deciding factor for A-level students.
Each year, the next round of UCAS applicants try to decide which university or city they should choose to embark on their journey into, not only their higher education, but a whole new chapter of independent living. This choice isn’t solely made with academic satisfaction in mind.
Students want to choose a university experience which will provide them with the most satisfaction overall, which includes non-academic areas such as social opportunities, financial opportunities, and welfare opportunities. Ultimately, where they see themselves fitting in.
Which begs the question: shouldn’t the league tables show non-academic satisfaction as well? Wouldn’t it be fair to give prospective students an accurate representation of what their overall university experience will be like? And how it may affect their overall satisfaction and mental health? Especially given the rise in cases of mental illness among UK students.
The Current Landscape Of Student Mental Health
The university experience is commonly referred to as the ‘time of your life’. Although, over the past 20 years, it has become common knowledge that the mental health of the UK student population has deteriorated and the university experience itself has been a contributing factor. Whether that’s financial difficulties or the struggle to balance studies, work, and a social life. Nevertheless, the need for student welfare support is a necessity, and therefore so are Student Unions (SUs).
Currently, in most UK universities, welfare support is solely in the hands of the SUs. The university designates a block funding grant annually; with this, they pass on the responsibility to develop support systems and strategies for all non-academic areas of the student experience.
The UK’s SU sector infrastructure has recently come under scrutiny from the Department of Education. For more info on this you can read WonkHE’s recent article: Do students’ unions waste money?. SUs have done some brilliant work over the years, with their policy-making and student support with the mental health crisis, yet their effectiveness has been questioned.
The SU sector is not ineffective, but the mental health crisis is growing exponentially at a rate that is out of control and may need more than SU-level ‘Mental Health Week’ campaigns. We’re now at a time where the negative impact of mental illness on academic performance grows larger each year and is a global issue.
Therefore, the question is not what new support strategies can each individual institution try next; but what can we do on a sector-wide scale to further understand overall satisfaction (or more so, the lack thereof).
How We Can Help
One of Phavour’s core missions is to relieve financial distress from UK students using our platform. However, we want to do more than that. We have a vision of making non-academic satisfaction a parameter in the university league tables.
We believe this would emphasise the importance of student welfare throughout the sector. Not only would this provide prospective students with a fair representation of what to expect when searching their choices, but it would simultaneously hold HE providers accountable for ensuring the highest standards of student welfare support, since it would impact their ranking position.
This would help to avoid situations where providers run courses that satisfy students academic requirements, but require the student to sacrifice every other area of their university experience to get there. No degree is worth risking your mental health, no matter the credibility. And yes, students are at university to get their degree, and that’s it. But when these issues are starting to affect the academic performance within these degrees, the sector must adapt.
Phavour has a vision of a HE sector that prioritises non-academic student experiences just as much as, if not more than, whether students are happy with their curriculum; and we’ll achieve this by emphasising the importance of student satisfaction throughout.
It’s not all about making students money, it’s about making students happy and healthy… as well as money.
If you would like to find out more, or have any queries, comments, or concerns; we would love to hear from you. Simply head over to the Phavour website to get in contact with the Phavour team.