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Only a third of students think university is good value for money

Only a third of English undergraduate students (32%) consider their course value for money, compared to 50% in 2012, according to a report released by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO warns that universities increasing spending on buildings risk providing little overall benefit to educational quality. That warning chimes with previous research that suggests students want to see investment in teaching rather than buildings*.

It also warns of a two-tier university system as the lowest ranked universities saw an 18% increase in the share of students from low participation areas, compared to 9% in the highest ranked.

It says that applications have generally shifted towards universities with stronger reputations and higher entry requirements, placing more financial pressure on other institutions and warns that if these trends continue, a two-tier system may develop between providers that can compete for the most high-achieving candidates and those that struggle to compete at all.

The report also warns that there is also a risk of reduced choice for people who are unable to move away to study. It says that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less geographically mobile and more likely to live in their family home while studying.

The wide-ranging report also warns that while the government seeks to open higher education up to more for-profit colleges there is no evidence that more providers will improve quality. Alternative providers were back in the news again recently with stories of student loan abuses.

Responding to the report, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'There is a lot in this report and not much of it is positive reading. It is perhaps not a surprise that fewer students think their course is value for money now they face bigger debts and keep seeing stories in the press about how their vice-chancellors seem to be creaming off any profit.

'Universities would do well to remember that students will always put teaching ahead of shiny new buildings. While fewer students now see their degree as good value for money, the level of satisfaction with their course has remained high.

'The government should heed the warning that opening the higher education sector up to untested providers does not come without risk. It must also study how the make-up of some universities is changing and look to provide better support for students so their options are not reduced because of high costs. We need all people to have the opportunity to succeed, not a two-tier system where your chance to get on depends on your financial background.'


* See page 48 which shows that the top three ways universities should save money according to students are:
1 Spend less on buildings
2 Spend less on sports/social facilities
3 Increase class sizes.

Similarly, the three most unpopular options are:
1 Reduce spending on student support services
2 Fewer hours of teaching
3 Reduce spending on learning facilities


Last updated: 8 December 2017