Tuition fees and a lack of in-person contact hours were the biggest causes of dissatisfaction.
Just over one in four university students feel they are getting good value for money amid the pandemic, a survey by Oxford's Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) suggests.
The proportion of undergraduate students reporting that their course is good or very good value for money has dropped dramatically from 39% to 27% – the lowest levels recorded by the think tank.
Tuition fees, a lack of in-person contact hours, the absence of face-to-face teaching, and teaching quality were the biggest causes of dissatisfaction cited by students during the pandemic, research has found.
Measures of wellbeing among students have also worsened to their lowest levels, the survey suggests.
The findings come after most students in England, apart from those on critical courses, were told not to travel back to campus and to learn online as part of the third national lockdown in early January.
Students on practical courses, who require specialist equipment and facilities, began returning to face-to-face teaching on March 8, but the remaining students were not allowed to return until May 17.
The study, based on a survey of 10,186 full-time undergraduates studying in the UK, found that among the students who felt their expectations were not met, more than half said there was too little in-person contact with other students (54%) and too little in-person interaction with staff (51%).
Students from England – where undergraduates pay up to £9,250 in tuition fees – are the least likely to report that their course is value for money (24%).
One student said: “Covid undermines what we’re paying for because I’m sure in person it would be great, but online isn’t worth £9,000-plus.”
In a new question for the survey – which was carried out between February and March 2021 – just 29% of students said they had considered leaving their course – and mental health was the most cited reason for this.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), which published the survey with Advance HE, said: “We hope policymakers will read the results carefully, including the worrying findings on students’ mental health, and reflect upon them.
“It would be much harder to tackle the problems identified if higher education were to be defunded at the spending review.”
Two out of three (67%) students feel their institution is committed to eliminating racial inequalities, but only 53% of black students hold this view.
A spotlight on specific student groups shows that white students, in almost all cases, were more likely to report more positive responses about their time at university than BAME students, the report found.
Less than half (49%) of black students said they would choose the same course and university again, compared with 62% of white students.
Overall, the study found that the majority of students (58%) would still have chosen the same course and institution despite concerns about value and lack of in-person interaction, compared with 64% last year.
When students were asked how they would prefer to learn if there were no pandemic restrictions, more than half (57%) favoured mostly in-person lessons and 31% said they would like a blended approach.
The findings will be set out in Hepi’s annual conference on Thursday – where both Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Office for Students (OfS) chief executive Nicola Dandridge are due to speak.
Gavin Williamson today at our conference putting the focus on graduate outcomes: "Every subject can lead to good outcomes, but this is not always the case..." and when there are not good outcomes "It is not good enough" #HEPIAC21— Higher Education Policy Institute (@HEPI_news) June 24, 2021