What do medical students think?

Most medical students are very satisfied with their courses and almost 60% think they get good value for money.  That contrasts with arts students where only about a third believe that they are getting a good deal.  But the levels of satisfaction about the costs of studying have been dropping in recent years and overall the last three years there has been a decline in perception of value for money from 53% to 37%.  These findings are based on a HEPI report (Higher Education Policy Institute) where 75,000 students were asked for their opinion with £1 Amazon voucher as a thank you for completing the questionnaire.  The gift voucher incentive only persuaded 15,000 (20%) to reply but that is generally thought to be a very good response rate.

Medics, like others, thought that they weren’t given enough information by their universities and colleges on how their fees are actually spent with 75% complaining that they were too much in the dark.  Nevertheless that didn’t stop students expressing views on how they would want the universities to save money if they had to.  Almost half suggested saving money by spending less on buildings and sports and social facilities, while very few indeed (less than 10%) wanted money saved by cutting spending on learning facilities (such as IT) or cutting hours of teaching.  In terms of hours of teaching, medical students get on average 16 hours each week which is higher than for any other subjects, many of which get only 8 hours.  Also Medics on average work hardest with a total of 47 hours a week.  More of this time is outside their course than for other subjects – they spend 17 hours a week working outside of their course whereas history students spend less than two hours.   Medics are also more likely to be learning in smaller groups.

Asked whether fee rises would be justified for excellent teaching the overwhelming majority of students rejected this with 86% saying “no”.  Indeed overall the two things that made students most satisfied were that the courses met their expectations and they teaching staff were helpful and supportive.  Statistically the most satisfied students were those living in halls of residence and those in their first year and the stand-out characteristics of the least satisfied students were that they were those with ethnic backgrounds such as black, Asian or Chinese.   Satisfaction also depends on which institution students are at, with greater levels of satisfaction amongst those at Russell Group universities and specialist colleges.

One of the report’s authors, Nick Hillman, who is also the Director of HEPI, pointed out that this survey showed high levels of anxiety and he believes that mental health should be “discussed more openly”.  Of course one needs to put this into the context that compared to graduates and to the general population students are usually less happy.  After people have finished university they are on average happier than they were as students but for subsequent decades “happiness is U-shaped” – people tend to get less happy as they get into parenthood and having children at home and as their children grow up and they move towards retirement they become steadily happier, on average.  So in summary, medical students work harder, are happier with their courses, believe they are getting good value for money but they have the prospect of getting happier once they leave university and very much happier once they get into their 50s and 60s.

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