The value of a degree

Are students receiving value for money? And what can be done to help them choose their courses wisely?

Reforms set out in the 2011 white paper have resulted in significant and ongoing changes to higher education in the UK.  Students are making higher contributions to the cost of their degrees.  But what do students think about their experiences of university? Researchers at Which set out to explore their concerns about the value of higher education.

What is value?

Measuring the value of higher education from the student perspective is complex. They go to university for a variety of reasons and they also play an important role in co-producing the value they achieve by the amount of work they put in.

Key findings

  • Three in ten undergraduates thought that their experience was poor value
  • 35% of graduates said that they are unlikely to have attended university faced with higher fees
  • 92% were required to cover additional costs associated with the course (e.g. equipment – 70% found out about these after the course started
  • 58% reported experiencing a change to their course (e.g. course content, location or an increase in fees
  • If students did complain to their university, 58% of them were dissatisfied with the way it was dealt with
  • 18% of graduates felt their experience at university represented poor value for money

The Which report calls for a new regulatory system to protect students against poor value for money and calls for standardised complaints procedures to be introduced.

The need for better information

The Which Report concludes that students lack key information to make the best choice for them when applying to university.  Writing in the Telegraph, personal finance expert Katie Morley agrees.  She believes there is a dearth of information to help students understand exactly how much they can expect to spend repaying their student loans.  Similarly there is little information on the value for money of degree courses.  

A TripAdvisor for degrees?

Morley calls for an independently regulated website with detailed information about every degree course in the UK – essentially a TripAdvisor for universities.  The site would include data from all fee-paying courses – including data on graduate starting salaries and employment rates.  The site would also feature teaching hours and feedback from graduates.