Value for money: the student perspective

One of the OfS’ core priorities will be to ensure that all students receive ‘value for money’ from their ‘higher education provider’. Value for money is enshrined in the regulatory framework for higher education that the Office for Students will operate. Value for money is also a key student concern. In a survey of Students’ Union election candidate manifesto pledges last year, ‘value for money’ was the second most mentioned issue.

Despite this, the definition of ‘value’ and ‘value for money’ in higher education is contested. Some believe that it is about the quality of the student experience itself, while others focus on outcomes like the ‘graduate premium’. While the focus tends to be on the home undergraduate fee, the OfS also has a responsibility to ensure value for money for postgraduates, for international students, and in relation to other fees and charges levied by a provider.

Funded by OfS, our SUs led some research into what students think. The purpose was not to definitively answer the question of what ‘value for money’ means in higher education but, rather, to explore value for money from the student perspective. Do students feel they are receiving value for money? Do student perceptions of value for money evolve as they go from school to higher education, and then into the world of work? What can higher education providers – and the OfS – do to help improve the value students perceive they are getting from the considerable investment they have made in higher education?

Full report: Value for money- the student perspective (2)

Note a small number of statistics in the full report were updated and corrected in July 2018 to reflect revised institutional categorisations. 

Slide deck on findings from OfS launch conference


Press Quotes:
Commenting on the research, Middlesex Students’ Union Vice President Joe Cox said:
“Our survey shows that students are concerned about, and not confident about, the value for money they are receiving- either from their tuition fees or other charges levied by providers. So far the national debate has focussed on home undergraduate fees and the government’s review, but our research demonstrates that students are worried about where funding goes regardless of whether they are home undergrads that have taken out a loan or not; and that they are concerned about efficiency, cross subsidy and transparency. Given the investment students and the public are making in HE, it’s now time for providers to open up to students and the public about where the money goes in meaningful ways, allowing them to compare costs and hold Universities to account for waste”

Commenting further, UEA Students’ Union Undergraduate Education Officer Mary Leishman said:
“We found that almost a quarter of students don’t feel they were informed about how much everything would cost as a student, with the main factors cited the costs of accommodation, books and paying for extracurricular activities- and it’s more acute for students from a widening participation background. This research demonstrates that the sector still has some way to go in preparing students properly- and this is not just about information or external maintenance support because some of these costs are within providers’ control. We believe the OfS should require providers to make every effort to reduce student costs, from reading lists to accommodation- and where excessive profits are made, the CMA ought to look at whether Universities are abusing their dominant market position with their own students”


Project Coordinator
Jim Dickinson
Chief of Staff
UEA Students’ Union
+44 (0)7449 903 618

This research project was conducted by trendence UK
8th Floor
Friars Bridge Court
41–45 Blackfriars Bridge
London SE1 8NZ
+44 (0)20 7654 7220


Mental Health in UK Universities

It is an understood reality that students in higher education face a number of pressures; accommodation, money, workload. Therefore it comes as no surprise that Levels of mental illness, mental distress and low wellbeing among students in higher education in the UK are increasing. However, how are institutions of higher education responding to such levels of distress in their students?

The answer is disappointing. Research launched by the IPPR in 2017 highlighted many problematic findings. The first being that five times the number of UK first-year students disclosed a mental health condition than ten years previously. These figures were listed alongside other shocking findings such as a record number of students dying by suicide in 2015, and a record number of students who experienced mental health problems dropping out of university – demonstrating an increase of 210 percent compared to 2009/10. Moreover, 94% of Universities reported an increase in demand for counseling services.

These findings certainly illustrate the need for mental health support across Universities. However, little is still being done to support students by these institutions. In response to this research, Universities UK (the Umbrella Body for UK Universities) launched a framework for universities to help improve student mental health in 2017. The framework called on all UK Universities to develop a student mental health strategy, policy and action plan.

However, when challenged on progress on this area in January, the DfE argued that:

“We expect universities to support students. That is why we have issued guidance encouraging universities to focus on this important issue and we have worked closely with Universities UK on its ongoing programme designed to significantly improve the mental health support available to students.”

Last October, therefore DfE launched a consultation on the regulatory framework that the Office for Students uses to regulate English Higher Education. Whilst there is an extensive passage on the issue of freedom of speech, the document is still silent on the issue of mental health. Yet again, there appears to be a skewed cultural expectation that just because students are largely young, they don’t have ‘real’ problems or that they can just ‘get over it.’ Yet every student deserves services from their universities that support health, wellbeing, and learning. Real in-house support is desperately needed and should be provided by Universities, right?

Therefore, on 10th December 2017 the following Freedom of Information request was sent to 133 Universities across the UK with the statement:

‘I would like to request a copy of any University-wide Mental Health/Wellbeing Policy/Strategy/Plan, along with details of when each was agreed and at what body.

The results were disappointing. Of the 133 Universities polled, only 101 responded (75%) and of those that responded, just 23 (22%) supplied a strategy of the type described in the Universities UK Guidance (one that assesses the situation, plans appropriate actions, allocates resources etc.)

Moreover, of those that did not supply a strategy, just 23 (22%) indicated that one was in development. Overall, of all the responses, just 24 (24%) indicated that they were involving students or the students’ union in the development of their plans or strategies, and a similar number indicated a “cross-university” approach, where areas beyond “student services” departments, such as academics or estates services, were involved in improving mental health.

In conclusion, almost no universities identify particular groups of students at risk for specific actions and almost no universities have set out measurable performance indicators by which their strategies or policies may be judged. There is also almost no oversight of these issues by University Governing Bodies evident in the responses.

The responses from all Universities polled can be found here:!ApN6SSPqzqE0gbrFaLDbLkEOcxp5bNg

Commenting UEA Students’ Union Welfare Community and Diversity Officer India Edwards said:

“The Government has argued that Universities should have to achieve a minimum standard to operate- but whilst made up problems like campus freedom of speech appear in the proposed baseline, real issues like mental health are missing. So we are calling on the new Office for Students and new HE Minister Sam Gyimah to reverse this trend, ensuring that all Universities indicate that they are thinking strategically about prevention and treatment of student mental health and allocating the right resources to tackle the issue”

Consequently, NUS agrees that more needs to be done in regards to mental health provision in education.

Izzy Lenga, NUS Vice-President Welfare, responded by saying:

“Whilst a strategy is no proof of delivery, the results of this request are astonishing. Vice Chancellors must have been living under a rock not to have noticed the mental health epidemic sweeping UK campuses, yet large numbers appear to be dragging their feet. Prospective students and their parents should think twice about applying to a university that can’t prove that it has been thinking strategically about mental health- and should certainly worry if their Uni of choice can’t evidence talking to the NHS, involving their own students or training and supporting their academics on the issue.”

Therefore, we are calling for a new policy regarding mental health provision in education and recommend that the following steps are taken in order to avoid this continued misconduct.


  • All providers should commit to implementing the recommendations in the UUK Step Change framework in discussion with students, students’ unions, and UUK should monitor uptake.
  • When publishing its Regulatory Framework, the OfS should ensure that effective policies on student mental health and wellbeing are included within the baseline requirements for providers.
  • OFS should conduct research into counselling waiting times, publishing results regularly to enable students to make informed decisions about providers.
  • Indicative behaviours relating to this should include assessments of the mental health of the student body, publication of strategies, action plans and policies, and indicators of performance.
  • Mental health metrics should be feature of access agreements, as well as retention, success and institutional performance strategies.
  • Policies and strategies on mental health should be a key feature of the public information landscape.
  • As part of the proposed Public Interest Governance Conditions, strategies and performance data on mental health should be approved and monitored by university governing bodies, who should work in this area as a strategic priority.
  • The new HE capacity building organisation, Advance HE, should prioritise work in this area.

Teaching excellence: the student perspective

As the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) moves into its third year, universities and students are becoming more familiar with the government’s new university rating system. With the year 2 ratings released in June 2017, the majority of HE providers in the UK now have a Gold, Silver, or Bronze TEF rating.

A consortium of students’ unions have come together to better understand what students across the UK think of TEF and of ‘teaching excellence’. Together with trendence UK, they have conducted the UK’s largest research project to date on students’ views of the TEF metrics.

This survey was conducted so that we can hear students’ voices on what they think of the TEF, how students themselves measure ‘teaching excellence’, and how the framework could, in its current incarnation, change the way students perceive the value of their universities and their courses.

This summer we questioned thousands of current university students, asking them to answer a range of questions about teaching experience and to give their opinions of the TEF. Some of the questions were straightforward and quantitative, others were open-ended and qualitative. This report summarises the findings.

Full report:


Project Coordinator
Ed Marsh
Chief Executive Officer
Middlesex University
Students’ Union (MDXSU)
+44 (0)20 8411 2420
This research project was conducted by trendence UK
8th Floor
Friars Bridge Court
41–45 Blackfriars Bridge
London SE1 8NZ
+44 (0)20 7654 7220
Press Quotes:
Commenting on the research, Middlesex Students’ Union Vice President Joe Cox said:
“What this research demonstrates is that whilst students want a framework that drives excellence in teaching, the current TEF doesn’t fit the bill- missing key metrics and over aggregating into unhelpful medals that students don’t understand. These findings underline the importance of OfS involving students as partners in future iterations, working with applicants, students’ unions and graduates to design a framework that is flexible enough to recognise students’ multiple motivations for entering Higher Education”
Commenting further, UEA Students’ Union Undergraduate Education Officer Mary Leishman said:
“These findings represent the first meaningful student feedback on the Government’s teaching excellence agenda, and whilst there is much that reinforces the principles of TEF, there are also signs of unintended consequences- the most worrying of which is the idea that 10% of BME students would have been put off by a “Gold” rating. It’s crucial that OfS interrogates and takes on board the lessons from the research if it is to work effectively to improve student choice and better teaching”

Union Futures

In December 2016 a group of 18 Students’ Unions jointly commissioned Alterline to do some work on the new NSS survey.

The research gathered data from some 17,000+ students across the diverse rage of institutions and has been used in a variety of ways since then to influence Students’ Unions work. At many SUs it has been used in block grant submissions and has been used as supporting evidence in lobbying work.

Julian Porch, Academic Officer at the University of York Students’ Union, wrote about the research on wonkhe- here.

With the change to the National Student Survey (NSS) question on students’ unions in the form of the new Question 26 (Q26), unions faced a fresh challenge, and opportunity, to demonstrate the extent and value of their contribution to the student experience and to academic life within UK universities. Bringing together 18 unions as part of a joint research venture, The Q26 Impact Study was the first of Alterline’s Union Futures projects and was delivered within four months, following the publication of the amended NSS questionnaire, yielding a core dataset of over 17,000 students.

The project was intended to enable participating unions to formulate a proactive response to the new NSS question prior to the initiation of the 2017 survey, as well as being a resource for reflecting and acting on the subsequent results. This report, Union Futures: The impact of NSS Q26, provides a summary of the key findings from the project for a wider audience beyond the participating unions, to allow the voice of the thousands of students who contributed to the project to be heard, as policy priorities and performance metrics in UK higher education continue to evolve.


Union Futures- SU Research on the new NSS

Research Coordinator
Ben Vulliamy
Chief Executive Officer
University of York Students’ Union
t: 01904 323727