By Beth Roberts
On the 15th July, Vice Provost Osama Khan emailed the 2020 graduating class of the University of Surrey to declare that the University of Surrey’s National Student Survey student satisfaction score had fallen from 82.87% to 79.23% within a year. As a graduating student who thoroughly enjoyed her time at university and had a number of brilliant professors with fantastic areas of research, I was confused by the declining score.
Initially, I reached out to another student graduating this year to ask what he thought Surrey was doing wrong. He said:
“It’s difficult to say, because I have high student satisfaction and so do many of the people around me. I think that student satisfaction is declining because of departmental differences. I think Surrey’s great and I don’t want to see it put down, but I assume that my experience is not shared by students from other departments. My only complaint is that it is hard to find free computers in the library, so I had to lug my laptop everywhere.”
Whilst this student studied English Literature, students from other departments had different opinions on their own experience as students. A biochemistry student stated “it’s to do with consistency. I’ve had a great experience in terms of feedback received and I’ve been lucky to have a really supportive personal tutor. It’s a shame that not everyone has the same experience.”
Since both of the students I contacted had positive experiences, I looked at a number of issues raised by students over the last few years, in regards to Surrey’s infrastructure and business decisions.
In 2017, Economics students were timetabled lectures in the local Odeon theatres, instead of within lecture halls. Students were, understandably, furious with the timetabling. Aside from the lectures taking place in the Odeon, students also experienced overcrowding in lecture halls on campus, forcing them to sit on the stairs due to a lack of seats. At the time, Student Union VP, Alex Harden, stated that “the University is pursuing a very aggressive growth strategy without having the infrastructure to accommodate the growth.” With hindsight, the Odeon lectures were only part of the problem.
The past couple of years have seen a complete redesign of the study areas within the library. Whilst the areas may seem comfortable and stylish, many students have noticed that the chic designs have taken up a large amount of study space and have led to groups sitting on the floor or searching other places on campus to study. It seems unfair that students should have to search for places to sit and study around campus rather than having the space and comfort to study within the university library. With increased building works occurring at Manor Park to facilitate the influx of students being accepted into the university, it seems inadequate that the study spaces are becoming limited by cumbersome interior design. It does beg the question as to whether building investments can be utilised to expand the student academic experience.
Rumours have circulated among the student population regarding the University’s intentions, many suggesting that there will be investment in a medical school in order for the University of Surrey to achieve Russell Group status. While these rumours are completely unsubstantiated and seem to be false, the spreading of such statements reveals the discontent within the student rhetoric. In order to be making such claims, students must be feeling undervalued and forgotten; from a student’s perspective, Surrey appears to appreciate business opportunities and growing prosperity rather than supporting academics and their students.
By no means does the declining student satisfaction seem to directly correlate with poor teaching. In contrast, it seems that the recent graduating cohort are actually significantly more disappointed in the way Surrey is running itself as more of a business than an institution of education.
There are a number of initiatives Surrey can take to lessen the decline of student satisfaction for future cohorts. Perhaps, if students are made aware as to why their complaints regarding overcrowding are being ignored and where money for building initiatives is being directed, then there will be an increased level of trust between students and administrators. The general perception among many undergraduate students is that the university are secretive with their plans and organisation. A greater sense of openness within the entire university community could improve communication and cooperation, whilst also allowing students to feel listened to and respected. A university cannot survive without students.