The number of students leaving university satisfied with their experience has started to fall, three years after top-up fees were introduced.
Almost one of five final-year undergraduates in England are unhappy with the quality of their courses, the National Student Survey found. For the first time since the annual study started in 2004, overall satisfaction fell, from 83 per cent to 82 per cent. More than 223,000 students took part in the poll, the highest number ever.
This year's final-year students are the first generation to have paid top-up fees from the start of their degree courses. For the vast majority, this resulted in an increase in tuition fees of about £3,000 per year.
The survey, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, asked students about every aspect of their university experience, from courses and tutors to how they were assessed and the feedback they received. Almost nine in 10 students said lecturers were good at explaining their subjects, but more than a third were not satisfied with the assessment and feedback received.
About a third said they did not think their course was well organised, and the same number said they were not properly informed about changes to their curriculum. Students at the University of the Arts London were the least satisfied, with just 63 per cent happy with their courses. At London Metropolitan University, only 68 per cent were satisfied.
The most contented were those at specialist colleges such as the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Institute of Education, which both scored 93 per cent.
Wes Streeting, the president of the National Union of Students, said: "We are concerned that the survey reveals a dip in overall levels of satisfaction as the first group of students to pay top-up fees prepared to graduate.
"Tuition fees in England were trebled in 2006 but students have not seen a demonstrable improvement in the quality of their experience. Universities have a responsibility to deliver substantial improvements in return for the huge increase in income they are receiving from fees."
The survey comes days after MPs on the Commons universities select committee published a critical report about the state of higher education in England. They said universities were failing to safeguard degree standards and the current system for ensuring quality was "out of date and should be replaced".
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