Thumbs down for Edinburgh student satisfaction

If The University of Edinburgh can proudly display “one of the world’s top 20 universities” on its website homepage, why is it that it places consistently low in student satisfaction rankings in the UK?

Often when prospective students are looking to apply to a university, they will first of all consult the league tables. However, different tables give different results. The Complete University Guide ranks Edinburgh at 21 academically in the UK, but when ranked according to student satisfaction, that drops to 122 out of 123 universities.

Student satisfaction at The University of Edinburgh has not only been low this year, but has been consistently low for the past few years. What makes this a more prominent issue is that recently, as The Guardian has noted, students elsewhere have reported the highest satisfaction rates in the past ten years.

Some students feel that they do not spend enough time with their tutors, or receive enough personal feedback. Although it can be difficult for tutors to have the time to do this, it is often a very important part of each course. If students aren’t getting enough comments on their work, sometimes they can find it hard to progress.

Ruby Trudgen, a second year Edinburgh student, said: “If your tutor is your main communication link with the University, is a ten minute talk at the beginning of the semester really enough?”

Trudgen added: “Some essay feedback is amazing, and they schedule meetings with you to go over it, but sometimes it’s just a few indecipherable scribbles on a page. It really depends on the tutor.”

However, some have questioned the accuracy and usefulness of the National Student Survey (NSS) system. The NSS asks final-year undergraduates to give feedback on their course, including the quality of teaching, assessment, feedback and academic support, in addition to an overall rating. This system relies heavily on individuals to give an honest and accurate rating of their course, which can be swayed by multiple factors out of the control of the university.

Furthermore, each university and course is substantially different. In small groups, anyone can easily ask the tutor or lecturer about problems that they have during class, whereas in others, students may not feel as confident asking a question in front of a group of two hundred. In such cases the individual would have to contact the professor directly in order to get help with any problems.

When comparing universities, it is hard to use a “one size fits all” method in giving every university the same survey. Sometimes a student’s expectations of what a university will offer can skew their opinion of their actual experience, for better or worse. QS World University Rankings ranks Edinburgh as 17th overall, and 12th for modern languages. This ranking system does not take into account student satisfaction, but rather uses four indicators based on ‘hard’ data, and two others on major global surveys of academics and of employers. In lieu of this, even if the standard is good, but not as high as expected, a student satisfaction score may be lower than if no preconceived ideas had existed.

Imperial College London is ranked 2nd in the 2014-15 QS rankings, and does consistently better than Edinburgh for student satisfaction. When asked about this, Catherine Leatherbarrow, a third year student at Imperial, said: “I think that the quality of teaching is excellent. We really do have world class experts teaching here. Imperial is not quite as good at providing feedback from assessments and occasionally there is a feeling that Imperial focuses on research to the detriment of student support, but I think it has noticeably improved even in the two years I’ve been here. I think the satisfaction is high because people have seen Imperial take their feedback in hand and act to improve. And everyone likes to feel they have been listened to.”

Many students feel that their time at Edinburgh is an enjoyable experience, but that feedback could be more thorough. However, it is important to remember that the NSS is not the sole marker of a good university, and that there are many other contributing factors that make Edinburgh deserve its place in the world’s top 20.

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The Student Newspaper 2016