Introducing: State of the University

It’s no secret that the University of Edinburgh, despite getting cosy with the likes of Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard in the top 20 of worldwide university rankings, does notoriously badly in any kind of survey which moves away from research output, graduate employment, and international reputation, and gets down and dirty with the nitty-gritty of the student experience.

Most of these rather sobering national league results are based on data collected through the National Student Survey, which provides final year students with the opportunity to rate their time at university. There’s no doubt that it’s important for the University to get feedback on the services it provides to students. But being a student at the University of Edinburgh is about more than rating your customer experience on a scale from excellent to pretty awful at the end, and never looking back after that.

Getting insight into student experience should not be like reading an angry Amazon review for a product never received, and it should move away from the idea that student experience can be defined by the quality of academic service alone.

As the biggest student publication on campus, we want to use our platform to dig a little deeper. In the past months, we have put together a comprehensive, anonymous student survey. We’ve compiled questions on student demographics, academics, mental health and wellbeing, sex, drugs & nightlife, and social attitudes. We want to know how many students are struggling with finances, how many students are on the receiving end of mental health support services (and how many would like to be), how many students have been kicked out of clubs for being a little too tipsy, and how many students have experienced anxiety. We’re interested in how many people have cheated on an assessment before, how many students have helped their peers cheat,  how much money students spend on illegal drugs – and much more.

It’s a survey that we ourselves are excited to fill out, and we won’t ask a single question that we deem irrelevant; we want to be able to cross-reference the results across sections to go beyond the simple numbers. We’re aiming to get some really exciting insights into who our peers are, how they spend their days and nights, and what they are worried about. But at the same time, it’s important to us that every question will be voluntary; students are invited to skip over sensitive sections of the survey.

Of course, we’re not being entirely selfless here; we are a student newspaper after all, and we want students to pick up a copy of the paper and get excited about its content.

We’re hoping for a turnout that will allow us to present the results in the paper as a genuine representation of the University’s student population, generating content across sections. But we also believe that this project can provide data that will be relevant to every single student at the University, whether out of genuine interest and concern – or pure and simple curiosity.

And whilst it’s no secret we’re hoping for flashy graphics and gripping headlines, we also believe that this could be the beginning of something that goes beyond the paper.

At this stage, we have no way of knowing where this survey will lead, but we sure can tell you where we would like to see it. We believe that this could be the beginning of a yearly survey, conducted by The Student, to check up on the State of the University, and we are convinced that this will not only provide rich original data for student media to process, dissect, and discuss, but essentially for every single body which can profit from learning more about the student body and  the way it thinks, feels, and acts.

Ultimately, this leads us back to the University itself. After all, student experience is more  than library resources and timetable mismatches, and we want to get access to data that moves beyond that.

We’ve been working on this for a while, but we are essentially still at the beginning of our journey. Whilst we have a good number of questions, these now need to be refined and cut down.

This is where we need your help. Whether you’ve always had a weird knack for surveys or would like to take a look at our questions to tear them apart  – please do get in touch.

We’re looking for as much input as we can possibly get before launching the survey. We believe that a survey like this can be an amazing addition to what student media can provide to the student body, but we can’t make this happen without your help.

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The Student Newspaper 2016