With the annual WUSCAs concluded for another year, it is important to look back and reflect on what we have learnt from the successes, disappointments, and growing voices emerging from the student reviews.
Student reviews provide an essential platform for current students to voice their honest, unfiltered opinion of how well their institution has met their needs, contributed to their futures, and provided the university experience they were hoping for. The WUSCA student reviews help to connect students and universities, providing institutions with meaningful insights as to what they are doing right and where they can improve.
There is no denying that the past year has been one of unprecedented challenges. Institutions and students have both had to adjust to a very different higher education environment in recent months. All this has come in the context of more widespread and ongoing efforts from the sector to make progress in important areas of the student experience, ranging from mental health to diversity and inclusion.
However, there is plenty of positivity emerging from the results of the WUSCAs, which indicate clearly that institutions have continued to make great strides in delivering a student experience to be proud of. While the review collection for WUSCA 2020 closed in February, prior to the impact of COVID-19, this ongoing trend towards improvement signifies a sector capable of adjusting to new circumstances in a manner that puts students first, whatever the year ahead brings.
From the 41,000+ reviews collected for the 2020 WUSCA, there was a decrease in the number of students that were not satisfied with their university, the top 10 contenders for "University of the Year" in our annual student choice awards have the highest combined average score (4.45) since 2017, and the overall winner, Loughborough University, set a new record with their review score of 4.58 out of 5. These exceptionally high review scores are evidence that universities in the UK have been doing more to provide their students with what they need to succeed in their learning.
There has been improvement from institutions across the board with many taking considerable steps to enhance multiple aspects of their higher education offering. Newman University entered the top 10 for University of the Year for the first time, perhaps due to the institution investing over £20 million into its campus or its commitment to being sustainable in its practice. Norwich University of the Arts was also a new contender in the category, giving us insights as to why it is a TEF Gold University.
Beyond the University of the Year category, this year’s Whatuni Student Choice Awards saw an array of universities take home an award. The University of Strathclyde pocketed its inaugural WUSCAs award, taking home the top prize in the ‘Local Life’ category, whilst universities such as Harper Adams, Sheffield & Aberystwyth reclaimed first place in ‘Job Prospects’, ‘Students Union’ and ‘Postgraduate’ respectively.
Each category plays an important part in contributing to how satisfied a student is with their university and the increase in average overall score from 4.04 in2019 to 4.20 this year shows that there has been widespread improvement in how students feel about their institution.
For the third time, we have seen University Facilities being the second-highest average score (4.10 out of 5) suggesting that students really value having modern, up to date equipment and resources readily available to them and that institutions have recognised this, responding with investment in key facilities.
Student Support and Courses and Lecturers were the next highest-ranking categories, both averaging a score of 4.00 out of 5. The strong score for Student support is significant in the context of recent focus on student mental health and wellbeing, suggesting that institutions have made great strides in meeting the emotional and mental needs of their student population. Equally, the strong score in “Course and Lecturers” may indicate an improvement in academic feedback and tutorials being easily accessible to students, in addition to being a glowing inditement of the quality of education being delivered by UK institutions.
Two of these high-ranking categories, “University Facilities” and “Course and Lecturers” are strongly associated with the quality of education, while “Student Support” encompasses the more holistic wellbeing students need in order to thrive. Such high review scores in these vital categories demonstrate that institutions in the UK are successfully delivering learning experiences and a supportive network that enable students to unlock their full potential. In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has heightened concerns around mental health and many courses have needed to alter their delivery methods, these high rankings should reassure students that institutions are prioritising those issues that will be most critical in the year to come.
Even the categories with the lowest average scores, Student’s Unions with (3.817 out of 5) and Accommodation (3.82 out of 5), were skewed towards the higher end of the spectrum, indicating a positive reception from students even if these are areas where institutions can do more to improve. It will be a challenge, given the new circumstances facing institution in the coming academic year, but accommodation is likely to become an even more important element of the student experience in 2020/2021 and institutions will need to find a way to ensure students have all they need to both study and feel at home in their residences.
A further challenge will be facilitating an active student body that is representative, equipped to serve the wider student population, and able to function under new safety practices, in addition to offering a diverse range of clubs for students to join. Prioritising the quality of their students' education and their wellbeing above accommodation and Students Unions is reflective of what matters to students, but the higher education experience is holistic and delivering across all categories is what makes an institution truly stand out to students.
There will always be room for improvement, as student’s needs change and the sector continues to learn how to accommodate these changes. However, the overwhelmingly positive response from students demonstrates how much institutions are taking the feedback from students to heart, investing in the areas that matter to them and delivering across the board. Where feedback has highlighted concerns, students can trust that institutions will respond appropriately and take the steps needed to deliver an even better experience in the years to come.