The Open University has the highest student satisfaction rating of all universities in Britain according to new rankings.
The OU, which offers distance learning degrees, scored 93 per cent in the latest National Student Survey which covered 154 higher education institutions and 106 further education colleges.
The survey showed a rise in every area in which universities were ranked – with a record 85 per cent of students overall declaring themselves satisfied with their courses. Students were least satisfied with the performance of their student unions, with only 66 per cent expressing satisfaction. This question was included in the survey for the first time.
Results of the survey will be included on a new website, unistats.direct.gov.uk, launched yesterday by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, which will give a range of information about every course offered by universities, including teaching hours and employment prospects.
This led to a row with lecturers' leaders, who claimed the exercise was a "gimmick" and could not mask the rocketing fees being charged by universities. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, added: "Students need proper support, not gimmicks. We would encourage students to visit any institution they are considering attending, not just rely on NSS scores or the new website."
But Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said: "As prospective students demand better information, the NSS will have a key part to play, as will the improved unistats website."
Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group which represents most of the country's prestigious research institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge, said students should make use of as much information as possible in deciding upon their university courses.
The OU was beaten only by three small specialist institutions in the rankings – St Mary's University, Belfast (a small Catholic college), the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Courtauld Institute of Art. Also in the top ten were the private University of Buckingham, and Oxford and Cambridge
Teenagers from one-parent families are three times more likely than those from two-parent families to be put off university for fear of student debt, according to a new Sutton Trust study.
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