How MOST universities measure student experience – and what you should do instead

Jan 20
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Our higher education system has evolved dramatically from its birth in the aftermath of the Second World War. Originally segregated by class, gender and race, modern universities scarcely resemble their predecessors. 

The transition to a consumer-centric model has enabled universities to employ a full suite of market tools and encourage innovation in day to day processes. Education has become a franchise catering for a large proportion of the population and today’s universities have quickly stepped up to meet evolving expectations. 

With 43 universities in Australia alone, higher education institutions now compete for student recruitment and retention. The student experience is paramount to success in both.

However student student experience remains an ephemeral concept with vague, if any, definition and measurement strategies.

Most universities continue to use student surveys to determine their satisfaction with aspects of their experience, including their lecturers and course delivery. 

Given the technology which is now jammed into every corner of the campus and the dramatic evolution higher education has taken since the early 1900s, it seems limited and counter-productive to reduce the student experience to a rating out of 10.

In Japan, academic professionals use the Japanese College Student Survey and the Japanese Freshman Survey. The USA employs the National Survey for Student Engagement.  The UK uses the National Student Survey and in Australia, we use the Course Experience Questionnaire. 

These scores have long been respected as a key driver of institutional change, however the limited nature of the survey begs the question if the results it presents are comprehensive, balanced and fair enough upon which to base such decisions. 

One suggested alternative is the focus group. While these can’t be completed en masse, they’re extremely useful in discovering how different groups think and feel and what they prioritise in their experience. They also had a human dimension to impersonal data and provide the opportunity for open dialogue on how the experience can be improved. 

A student’s experience, however, extends beyond the classroom. Measuring their whole of university experience incorporates factors ranging from involvement in clubs or sporting groups, time spent on campus, lectures attended, online engagement, and their likelihood to recommend the university to a friend. 

A cumulative way of measuring these factors is with a student register which tracks the student’s involvement in different aspects of university life. While this would enable the university to reach out to low-engagement students, it would also provide the opportunity to identify trends in larger cohorts. 

Similarly, low rates in time spent on campus, for instance, begs questions around the services and amenities available onsite.

Are you seeking more strategies to measure and enhance the student experience? 

The 6th Enhancing Student Experience, taking place in Sydney from 22 – 23 April, explores innovative methods to engage and support students across the life cycle as well as evaluate the effectiveness of your initiatives. 

Hear from speakers including Professor Laura-Anne Bull, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University, who will share her insights on how best to capture and utilise the student voice to enhance the student experience. 

Deep dive into the topic with a workshop around ‘how & when to best measure student satisfaction & engagement’. Facilitated by Jacqui Clarke, Former Director of Student Experience at TAFE SA, the session will explore how to assemble an effective program to measure and improve student satisfaction and engagement. 

Submitted by Criterion Content Team

Criterion Content Team

This post has been written by the Criterion Conferences Content Team. Based in Sydney, we are an independent research organisation, producing over 90 conferences a year across a variety of industries. Our events, attended by thousands of senior delegates from the public and private sector, are designed to enrich, inspire and motivate. Our focus is on providing innovative, value adding content via our conferences and blogs like this are extension of that principle. You can view our conferences by visiting our website

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