What really makes a good university

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We all chose to come to Oxford, but the real question is, why? SPCE Labs have released data from a study which aims to demonstrate which factors are the most important in a student’s choice of university.

SPCE Labs used a scale out of ten to rank different factors according to the influence they had over the student’s decision to go to their particular university. The more relevant the factor, the higher its score. The top three areas of consideration thus identified are predictable and focus on the academic appeal of a university. The particular course specification was rated the most important factor, with an average score of 8.4 out of 10. The second-highest rated factor was the reputation of the university with a score of 7.7, closely followed by the university’s ability to boost career prospects at 7.1. I would argue that Oxbridge are somewhat exceptional on the whole to this ranking. The Oxbridge reputation is so great that arguably many students choose to go to Oxford or Cambridge even if they offer an inferior course to other universities.

Although these three factors may have the most bearing upon the initial narrowing down of university options, it doesn’t do much for us once we have compiled a short-list. We have to ask ourselves why we decided to apply to Oxford over Cambridge – a university with similar teaching structure, an equally good reputation, and therefore with the same influence on our future careers? Bristol or Durham? St Andrews or UCL? If we consider universities of very similar calibre then we must look at other factors which determine our final decision.

87% of students find it difficult to cope with university life.

The baby-boomer generation tend look down on students as carefree party animals and so presumed that we Millennials would place a lot of importance upon the nightlife available in the city we choose to study in. Leon Ifayemi – CEO and co-founder of SPCE – declared that “today’s research dispels several myths about student culture in the UK,” having assumed that young people made their decisions about universities heavily influenced by the nightlife offered. However this was absolutely not the case: nightlife was rated twelfth with a score of 4.6. It fell below factors such as distance from the family home, university facilities, accessibility, affordability, and also below the support services provided by the university.

This study demonstrates that students are on the whole much more concerned about their mental health than about the social factors of university life. However, by comparing the data from current students to that taken from past graduates, SPCE was able to identify a rise in young people’s consideration of support infrastructures. Current students rated the support services as having an importance of 5.9, whereas past graduates gave an average score of 4.9. It is difficult to know to what we can attribute this significant difference. Is it a rise in mental health issues, or an increased awareness of them, or even a greater willingness in the student body to admit that they’re struggling? There are many factors involved, but the UPP Annual Student Experience Survey showed that 87% of students find it difficult to cope with university life, in social and/or academic areas.

Therefore a conclusion that can be drawn from SPCE’s study is that students do not consider social factors to be very important in influencing their choice of university. Rather they place most of the weight upon the academic environment and the future prospects and career opportunities that their choice of university will bring. However, the most significant thing that we can identify from the results of this study is the rise in concern for mental health and the availability of support services.

The results of this study might compel universities to improve their support facilities, especially if the importance of support to students continues to rise. Perhaps one day the greatest university in the UK will not be famed for its academic merit, but for the effectiveness of its support facilities to help students through their trying university years. Success could be measured in balanced and happy graduates rather than in 1sts and 2:1s. I think that is a far more optimistic picture of the future than one ruled by ink and governed by stress, and I believe that Oxford should be the one to set the example.