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As Unite Students launches the findings of a new study on the social and emotional factors that affect the student experience, its chief executive Richard Smith explains the thinking behind the research.
A degree opens doors. Doors to new careers, opportunities and experiences.
It may be viewed by some as a commodity: an investment of time and effort and a financial investment in oneself in return for knowledge, skills and credentials that open those doors to the future. Since the introduction and subsequent increase in tuition fees, attention has rightly turned to the value of a degree.
A degree may equally be viewed as an experience: a time of curiosity and discovery, both academically and personally. Studying for a degree opens doors to new people and social situations, exploration of identity and purpose. Time spent at university can profoundly challenge students’ existing world views, leading to development and growth. As a father, and as an employer, I value these things very much.
Through the Unite Students Insight Report 2016 we have sought to understand what happens in the major non-academic environments supporting the broader student experience. This includes university ‘non-academic’ services, student-led spaces such as clubs and societies – and, most significantly, students’ own homes. These are all places which contribute to the experience and in which a different learning and growth takes place.
Overall student satisfaction is high. This is consistently demonstrated through the existing student surveys. However, not all students find the transition to university life a straightforward one. As the research demonstrates, students do face difficulties. The research outlined in this report identifies challenges around student mental health, isolation and stress. These findings support our own operational data, in which we have seen a significant increase in welfare and resilience incidents across our accommodation over the last two years.
The analysis in this report focuses on the contributing factors, which in turn suggest new ways to improve the student experience. From these findings, and based on the rigorous and robust data set supporting it, we have created a Student Experience Index. It is our intention to track this index over time and look to identify the positive impacts that we hope Unite Students and the wider sector can have by working together.
It is also worthy of consideration that as universities continue to open their doors to an ever greater diversity of students, it is clear from this research that the benefits of higher education are unevenly distributed across the student body. The report highlights some significant differences in experience and outcome, particularly for students from lower socio-economic groups and for those with mental health issues. We believe that it is it possible to make a positive impact here.
Providing students with the best accommodation experience has been at the heart of everything Unite students has done for the last 25 years, during which time we have housed half a million students. This is a responsibility I take very seriously, and this research has brought home to me just how influential student accommodation, and what takes place within it, can be on student wellbeing and success.
We have already made many changes to our operation and service over the past few years and, as a result of these research findings, I look forward to working closely with the higher education sector over the coming years on further research and practical strategies to continue to improve the overall student experience, for all of our students.
Read more about the Unite Students Insight report on Media FHE news tomorrow
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