The best way of measuring the popularity of a course, institution and city with students is when they are nearing the completion of their studies. Using results from the National Student Survey, we can calculate which cities give graduates the most positive feelings.
For every student city, we have calculated a course satisfaction score. The city score weights the satisfaction score (which is out of five) for each university by its percentage of total students in the city. This also gives a score out of five.
The course satisfaction score is really an inverse measure of dissatisfaction. All universities produce reasonably high satisfaction levels. The percentages of students reporting themselves as at least 'satisfied' range from the low 70s up to the mid 90s, with the average in the high 80s. The top performers have very few dissatisfied students, as few as one-sixth of the bottom universities.
A score out of five for each university and has been calculated by ranking it along the score distribution for all UK universities. The top universities score just below 5.0 while the bottom ones score just above 0.0.
The score for a city is usually away from the extremes due to averaging, with the exception of cities that are dominated by a top or bottom performing university. Large cities with many universities tend to have scores close to the overall average for all universities, which is 2.5 out of 5.0.
To provide a fairer comparison, scores are compared for cities in three groups: big cities (>300,000 people), smaller university cities (cities/towns that are home to multiple universities but <300,000 people), and single-university towns (cities/towns that are home to just one higher-education institution).
Top 5 Big Cities1. Belfast (3.8)2. Coventry (3.6)3. Cardiff (3.3)4. Nottingham (3.0)5. Birmingham (2.8)The big student cities that achieve the highest student satisfaction rates all employ a similar model. Each city supports a large student population in or very close to the city centre. Students are right at the heart of city life and the facilities offered by the city produce happy students.
Belfast, the capital and largest city in Northern Ireland, takes the prize as the most popular big student city in the UK. Belfast's high overall rating is driven by Queen's University Belfast, which accounts for close to half of the city's students and has a course satisfaction rating of 4.2. Students in the city benefit from relatively low congestion and cheap living.
In second spot is Coventry, a student city close to Birmingham with two large universities. Its biggest and highest rated university is Coventry University, which has its main campus located in the city centre.
The fourth and fifth most satisfying student cities in the UK are Nottingham and Birmingham respectively. Nottingham is home to more than 60,000 students attending its two universities. Birmingham is the UK's second largest city and the base for the University of Birmingham.
Top 5 Small Cities1. Norwich (4.6)2. Hull (4.2)3. Bath (4.1)4. Oxford (3.8)5. York (3.5)
Top 5 Towns1. St Andrews (4.7)2. Guildford (4.6)3. Exeter (4.5)4. Lancaster (4.4)5. Durham (4.3)
The student satisfaction figures quoted are calculated using data for 2011/12 (published in 2013) from the National Student Survey (NSS).
The NSS has been conducted by Ipsos MORI for the Higher Education Funding Council for England annually since 2005. It runs across all publicly funded Higher Education Institutions in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
The NSS takes place between January and the end of April each year. The response rate is around two-thirds, corresponding to approximately 300,000 individual forms submitted.
The survey gathers opinions from final-year undergraduates on the quality of the courses they studied. It asks them to provide honest feedback on what it has been like to do the course at the institution. Scores are correlated with general measures of personal welfare.
Respondents rate a number of common student experiences, including teaching and learning, assessment and feedback, academic support, organisation and management and learning resources.
Satisfaction is calculated using the combination of the percentage of students responding “Definitely Agree” and “Mostly Agree” to the question about overall satisfaction with the course.