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Loughborough University swept to victory in the University of the Year category of the 2020 Whatuni Student Choice Awards (#WUSCA), taking home the ultimate prize for the second time in 3 years with an average review score that broke all previous records. When the reviews were tallied up, Loughborough had achieved an average overall rating of 4.58 out of 5, and an average score of 4.81 out of 5.

What's more, securing the top spot is far from a one-off fluke, as the university has managed to maintain a constant presence in the University of the Year shortlist, where it has hovered in the top 3 for seven of the last eight years.

How have they managed to maintain such a notable level of student satisfaction, across a number of categories, and been such a mainstay in the running for ‘University of the Year’ for so long?

With WUSCA 2021 review collection now open, having moved entirely online, it's time for institutions across the UK to look to the year ahead and how they can ensure the best possible experience for their students - and therefore top reviews! To do that effectively, now is an ideal opportunity to reflect on how Loughborough has managed to be so popular with their student body.

Here, we break down how Loughborough has managed to consistently meet student expectations, as well as providing insight into what institutions will need to priorities if they are to be in the running for the WUSCAs 2021.

Loughborough’s success: 3 key factors in Loughborough’s WUSCAs triumph

Consistency across the board

To perform well in student reviews institutions need to be delivering on every aspect of the student experience. Just as having fantastic student accommodation won’t be enough to win the WUSCA’s alone, poorly perceived student accommodation can have a significantly negative impact on overall reviews to pull an institution out of the running altogether.  Each aspect requires consideration and effort, which according to this year’s result, is where Loughborough have excelled. Having been shortlisted in 10 of the 11 categories for which they were eligible is no mean feat - the only category they were not shortlisted for, ‘Local Life’, being one where institutions have less capacity to affect the student experience.

Much of the key to Loughborough’s success is the university's consistently strong performance across multiple categories, and this year was no exception. In the 2020 WUSCAs Loughborough took home 1st place in two more categories, “University Facilities” and “Societies and Sports”. So, why have Loughborough been so successful over the years that the WUSCAs have been running?

This consistently high performance across categories has been a feature of Loughborough’s WUSCA’s experience for many years now, the university managing to secure an award every year for the past 3 years. Their diversity of efforts is further reflected through in the fact they have secured victory in a new category every year since 2018, winning the ‘Accommodation’ award in 2019, and subsequently both the ‘Societies and Sport’ & ‘University Facilities’ award in 2020. Loughborough also secured 2nd place in the Job Prospects Category in 2020.

Focusing in on this year, we should also acknowledge the exceptionally high scores Loughborough achieved in their winning categories. They topped the ‘Societies and Sports’ category, claiming the highest average score since the category’s inclusion in the awards, with 4.67 out of 5. It seems like they also leave little to be desired when it comes to university facilities. They secured the ‘University Facilities’ award for the second time in three years, once again impressing their students with the diversity being “wide-ranged, something for literally everyone”, “Everything is modern and state of the art”, and according to one student, “they are constantly being upgraded.”

Listening to their students

To win such a breadth of awards, Loughborough has evidently taken note of what their own students have to say. Loughborough University has established a variety of methods through which to listen to their students. These include using focus groups and surveys to listen to student opinions and implement relevant changes in their IT services, the details of which can be seen here. Loughborough has also established a comprehensive wellbeing and support service and regularly engages with the National Students Survey, using the results to inform their policies and implement changes in various aspects of the university. Regarding student's need for

Beyond these internal steps, Loughborough consistently uses feedback as a useful tool, taken from student reviews like those facilitated by Whatuni. Reviews not only allow current students to share their experience and help guide prospective students, but they also allow students a free platform to voice their opinion. This allows institutions to see where they're performing well and where they’re letting their students down. They are honest, authentic, and direct. Loughborough recognises this, having improved their average score since 2019 in the ‘University of the Year’, ‘Course and Lecturers’, ‘Job Prospects’, ‘Societies and Sport’, ‘International’, and ‘University Facilities’ categories.

With praises such as “I could never imagine going anywhere else” and ‘The Loughborough university experience is by far the best I’ve seen in the country”, the collection of reviews from Loughborough students seems to mirror the efforts they have been putting in place.

Valuing the student experience

The unique aspect of reviews is their ability to convey an experience. The value of experiential marketing has become more and more ubiquitous in the current social climate. We see this everyday in the world’s most engaged-with brands. Whether it be Coca Cola telling us to ‘Taste the Feeling’ , ‘Open Happiness’, or Apple reminding us to ‘Think Different’, products and services trade on our emotional engagement with experience.

The same principles apply when it comes to higher education marketing, where a unique blend of experiential and aspirational messaging is used to entice prospective students to apply. However, where higher education sector differs from other industries is in its accountability and need to deliver on the experience and outcomes  This is an area where Loughborough University has excelled and is willing to continuously invest in.

Despite already receiving exceptionally high review in categories such as University Facilities, which Loughborough won this year in addition to Societies and Sports and University of the Year, the institution has recognised the importance of good facilities to the experience of its student body and pledged to invest a further £130m in their facilities over the next three years. This demonstrates that Loughborough cares about what is important to their student body, what will make their experience even better, and is willing to push beyond “good enough” to deliver on the issues that really matter to their student body.

Loughborough’s emphasis on the student experience is exemplified through review comments such as “I have absolutely loved my student experience” and “It is definitely worth getting involved in as much as you can to have the full Loughborough experience”. The degree of satisfaction amongst Loughborough’s students was embodied in the awards it walked away with. By setting the benchmark for student satisfaction once again, Loughborough University can certainly be proud of the positive impact they continue to have on the student experience and can be used as a benchmark for many other institutions in years to come.

Reflections and advice from Loughborough:

Professor Rachel Thomson, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Teaching) at Loughborough University had the following comments on the Universities success in 2020 and their ongoing efforts to meet their students' needs: At Loughborough, we are really proud of our student experience, which is a great testament to the dedication and hard work of both our staff and students.  We are committed to listening to the student body through our systems of academic representation and partnership with the Students’ Union, and have implemented a number of ways to ensure that feedback is acted on.

This award means a lot because it is voted for by students and we are delighted to have been recognised in so many categories, including winning both the ‘University Facilities’ and ‘Sports and Societies’ categories, in addition to the overall award. 

I was really pleased that we were also recognised with a silver award in the ‘Job Prospects’ category – ensuring that our graduates are in a position to move into graduate-level employment is really important to us. Indeed, we have now rolled out our Personal Best scheme campus-wide to help students develop their skills, stand out to future employers and be the best version of themselves.  Personal Best is our exclusive development programmes structured around each of the main dimensions of a student’s life at Loughborough, academic, professional and personal. 

CP - Image - Headshot - Ella Grimwade - UK
Ella Grimwade27 July 2020