Predictors of Student Satisfaction: A Mixed-methods Investigation in UK Higher Education

Ritchie, Alison Furey (2022) Predictors of Student Satisfaction: A Mixed-methods Investigation in UK Higher Education. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis examines which factors best predict students’ satisfaction with their university experience. High levels of student satisfaction at university are important for a positive student experience as well as benefiting the institution in relation to their reputation and student recruitment success. Much of the previous research focuses on predictors of student satisfaction at one level, institutional or individual factors, and there appears to be little research conducted across multiple UK Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s). Therefore, the research within the thesis aimed to examine predictors of student satisfaction at both the individual and institutional level across UK HEI’s.

A mixed methods approach was taken. The first two studies used a quantitative approach examining data from the National Student Survey (NSS) and the Student Academic Experience Survey (SAES). Study-1 examined predictors of overall satisfaction on the NSS, focusing on which questions on the NSS best predict overall satisfaction. This study extended the previous work of Bell and Brooks (2018) by analyzing data from the updated NSS survey questions. Findings supported that of previous research and showed that ‘teaching’ and ‘organisation and management’ were the strongest predictors of overall satisfaction ratings. Study-2 examined individual and institutional level predictors of student satisfaction on the Student Academic Experience Survey (SAES) developed by HEPI using Hierarchical Linear Modelling (HLM). The results revealed that student level variables of ethnicity, nationality, residency, life satisfaction and student-staff liaising were predictors of satisfaction at university, and the institutional level variable tutorial-style classes significantly predicted student satisfaction. Higher levels of satisfaction were reported by students who were white, international students, rated their life satisfaction highly, liaised with staff members more frequently and spent more time in tutorial-style classes. The strongest predictor of student satisfaction was a students’ life satisfaction rating. This study makes an original contribution to knowledge as it is the first large scale study examining both individual and institutional level predictors of student satisfaction. Study-3 then aimed to gain a more in-depth understanding of the factors influencing student satisfaction by adopting a qualitative approach. Students took part in focus groups to explore variables related to their satisfaction with their university experience. Key themes emerging from the study indicated that students consider both individual and institutional factors as important to feel satisfied overall with university. Key over-arching themes were socioeconomic status, psychosocial wellbeing, personal life, course, and teaching. Much of the findings in the third study supported and expanded upon those from the first two studies in that students reported feeling more satisfied with university when they perceived the quality of teaching and course content to be good, had good mental health and lived on campus.

In summary, the findings of the thesis suggest that it is important that institutions consider individual student requirements and their wellbeing in order to have high levels of student satisfaction. Having good quality courses, teaching and campus environment is important, but caring for students is more important and beneficial for student satisfaction levels.

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