Half of UK university students think degree is poor value for money

Nearly half of all students thought their degree offered poor value for money this year, according to a survey that sheds light on the scale of student anger with their universities’ response to the pandemic.

Twice as many students thought their courses offered poor value (44%) than in 2019-20, despite pandemic disruption that year, according to the survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank. The increase is thought to reflect a view among students that universities misled them about how much in-person teaching they could expect this year.

This year is the first in which more students felt let down by their courses than were satisfied since the survey began 15 years ago. Students were unhappy with the cost of tuition as well as the lack of contact hours and in-person teaching, commenting that online learning “isn’t worth £9k” and “is extremely different to in-person learning”.

Responding to the survey, Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of the university regulator, the Office for Students, urged institutions to be more transparent with students about how much in-person teaching they are likely to receive next academic year so that they have “realistic expectations”.

“It is clearly of concern to see such a significant increase in the number of students saying that their course presents poor value for money – largely driven by the limited availability of in-person tuition,” said Dandridge. “If we are going to learn lasting and meaningful lessons from the pandemic, listening carefully and responding to students’ views will be essential.”

While some universities, such as the London School of Economics and Edinburgh, have said they will offer all lectures online and most seminars in person, other university websites are vague about their plans, with some stating that the blend of online and in-person will depend on year of study, course and module choices.

The survey of 10,000 full-time undergraduates studying in the UK also showed that nearly a fifth plan to go on to further study.

Several institutions, including UCL and Sheffield, have reported higher numbers of applications for postgraduate degrees this year, possibly due to students’ concerns about cuts to graduate schemes and entry-level jobs during the pandemic.

A new report from the Sutton Trust, an education charity, said the introduction of government-backed postgraduate loans in England had doubled the proportion of graduates from lower-income backgrounds studying for masters degrees, from 6% to 12.9%, but that they remain underrepresented relative to their more privileged peers.

The authors warned that the high cost of study may still be shutting out some students, with average tuition fees at universities in the prestigious “golden triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge having doubled since 2011 to reach £10,900, outstripping increases among other universities. Once living costs are factored in, this averages £20,000 a year, beyond the scope of available loans.

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