Oxford University has received mixed results from the National Student Survey (NSS). Nationwide, Oxford came joint 20th with 15 other higher education institutions, with an overall student satisfaction rate of 90 per cent. Whilst the Oxford University Medical School received the highest satisfaction rating of all British medical schools, the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) took the bottom spot in the NSS tables for the fifth year in a row.

The NSS is a series of 23 online questions relating to six areas of the learning experience as well as student unions and overall student satisfaction. It is aimed at final year undergraduates, and assesses universities and other higher education providers on a number of satisfaction-based criteria every year. The 2016 poll, which was released on 10th August, had a sample size in Oxford of 2919 finalists. Across the country the poll showed student satisfaction remained at record levels.

Oxford University performed particularly well in satisfaction with the medical school, in which 99 per cent of medical students agreed that they were satisfied with their experience of the course, with 87 per cent claiming high satisfaction. Dr Tim Lancaster, Director of Clinical Studies, commented: ‘It is wonderful to receive this appreciation from our students for both our six and four year medical courses. The NSS consists of 22 questions and covers six domains in addition to overall satisfaction. Oxford achieved high scores across all domains. This reflects not only the excellence of teaching throughout the two courses, but the high quality of the administrative staff who provide such a high level of organisation and cohesion. Effective partnership with our NHS partners is another crucial part of this success. I would like to thank all the scientists, clinicians and administrators who contribute to our team.” He added, “It is particularly pleasing that Oxford is able to achieve high levels of both student satisfaction and graduate achievement.”

On the other hand, only 34 per cent of Oxford students who responded to the National Student Survey (NSS) 2016 described themselves as ‘satisfied’ with their student union, whereas 37 per cent described themselves as neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.NSS chart

Across Higher Education Institutions in the UK the average satisfaction level with studnet unions was 62.3 per cent; top of the table was Leeds University Union, which had a 92 per cent satisfaction rating. Student unions at two other collegiate universities, Durham and Cambridge, were also around the bottom spots, with satisfaction rates at 35 and 37 per cent respectively.

OUSU VP Eden Bailey commented, “Most Students’ Unions, unlike OUSU, have physical facilities and resources encompassing bars, club nights, cafes alongside clubs and societies, and all manner of other things. We unfortunately don’t have this kind of space, visibility, or the funding to provide it. For most Oxford students, their College’s Common Room comes closer to the kind of status, facility, and familiarity that Students’ Unions at other universities have.

A huge challenge we face is that not many people realise that a number of the great things that common rooms do offer are facilitated by OUSU, from discount contraceptives to developing papers and other resources to lobby Colleges on important issues. This year we’ll be providing common rooms with more support than ever before, with a huge new training programme which will offer free training not just for common room presidents, but for students who want to get involved in everything from looking after a society’s finances to being trained as a first respondent to sexual violence.

A lot of our most crucial work for students is behind the scenes, and much of it confidential, for example negotiating with the University on issues to do with fees and funding, particularly in light of the government’s recent Higher Education Bill. A lot of what we achieve as student representatives on committees may not seem like particularly flashy or highly visible ‘wins’ but they make a huge difference to students’ access to and experience of education at Oxford. However, one thing we definitely want to work on this year is ensuring that all of our ‘wins’ are delivered and communicated through a variety of channels that reach an increasingly wide range of students.

Additionally, some of OUSU’s best work is through the support offered to students who are most marginalized by the University and Colleges, and this is reflected in the NSS score – we have notably higher ratings of satisfaction from students who identify as BME than as white, and from women than men.

So, in many ways, the NSS rating highlights that many students don’t know very well what OUSU does. So perhaps it’s not surprising we don’t get rated so highly. But in addition to expanding what we are already doing well, making this visible is something we are committed to improving.”

Publications such as the Times Higher Education have begun to speculate that a ‘new elite’ of popular universities might emerge from university rankings based on student satisfaction. In this year’s NSS results of the 24 universities to score 90 or above, only six are from the Russell Group.