UK, Australia, Canada: Student satisfaction below average

Three out of the ‘big four’ study destinations for English-taught programmes – the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada – fall below the global average for student satisfaction in what is billed as the world’s most comprehensive university satisfaction survey.

Only the United States – with a global satisfaction score of 4.32 out of 5 from student reviewers taking part in the survey – was rated higher than the global average for student satisfaction in the four leading global study destinations in the 2023 Global Student Satisfaction Awards report.

That global average rose to 4.21 from 4.06 in 2021 when the last survey was conducted in the middle of the global COVID pandemic.

Reviewers – drawn from 126,000 students and recent alumni from 126 countries – gave university education in the United Kingdom 4.18 out of 5, Australia got 4.13 and Canada 4.11, according to the report released on 18 October.

While the US showed an improvement of 0.13 (from 4.19 in 2021 to 4.32 in 2023) and Canada improved by 0.04 (from 4.07 in 2021 to 4.11 in 2023), the UK showed no improvement (staying at 4.18), while Australia dropped by 0.01 (from 4.14 in 2021 to 4.13 in 2023).

Overall, higher levels of satisfaction

Overall, however, global students are unsurprisingly more satisfied with their university education post-pandemic as international higher education gets back to the ‘new normal’ after the disruption caused by COVID-19, according to the survey.

Internationally, Hungary had the highest overall levels of student satisfaction, according to the student reviewers, at 4.39 (up 0.04 from 2021), just ahead of Germany at 4.36 (up from 4.13 in 2021).

Portugal took third spot and saw the highest percentage increase in student satisfaction (up 0.28 from 2021 to 4.33) since the last awards, followed by the US and Spain.

Reviewers were asked to rate their study experience on a scale from 1 to 5 in seven areas: overall satisfaction; student-teacher interaction; admission process; student diversity; quality of student life; career development; and online classroom experience.

Hosted by Studyportals, Unibuddy and the British Council IELTS, the survey was restricted to the 3,610 universities identified as having English-taught programmes by the organisers. To be included, institutions had to have a minimum of at least 30 reviews from current students or recent alumni.

Studyportals CEO and co-founder Edwin van Rest claimed: “The Global Student Satisfaction Awards is the only global programme which recognises the best universities from the perspective of students.”

The University of Navarra in Spain was the overall Global Student Satisfaction Award winner.

The University of Klagenfurt in Austria won the Student Diversity category; the University of the People in the US took the Online Classroom Experience award; University West in Sweden won the Admission Process category; Semmelweis University in Hungary won the Quality of Student Life award; Denison University in the US won the Student-Teacher Interaction category and Dublin City University, Ireland, won the Career Development award.

A more welcoming US climate

Van Rest told University World News it was not surprising the United States did well. “There is a different political climate in the US now compared to 2021. The State Department has done a lot of work to make international students a priority and the climate is more welcoming,” he said.

US universities performed strongly across various dimensions of student satisfaction, getting 4.68 out of 5 for Admissions Process, 4.57 for Student-Teacher Interaction 4.44 for Career Development.

Australian universities scored below the global average except for Career Development and saw a slight drop in satisfaction with Student Diversity, while Career Development improved the most, from 3.96 in 2021 to 4.28 in 2023.

Students in the UK were less satisfied with Admission Process, Student-Teacher Interaction and Student Diversity compared to 2021. However, they were more satisfied with the Online Classroom Experience, Quality of Student Life and Career Development.

Student satisfaction in Canada rose across every category compared with the 2021 survey, but the Overall Student Satisfaction score of 4.11 is still well below the global average.

The new ‘University Meta Ranking’

This month Studyportals also released its new University Meta Ranking, based on a combination of the most recent data from leading international university rankings’ providers: World University Rankings by Times Higher Education; QS World University Rankings by TopUniversities; Academic Ranking of World Universities by Shanghai Jiao Tong University; Best Global Universities Rankings by US News; and the World Higher Education Database.

Van Rest claimed the University Meta Ranking gives students “an easily-accessible and comprehensive view of the best universities in one place”.

The Meta Ranking put Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US in the top spot, with Harvard University in second place, Stanford University in the third spot, and Oxford and Cambridge universities in the UK in fourth and fifth places, respectively.

The US and UK took all the top 10 positions, with the highest-ranking universities outside of the US and UK being ETH Zurich, Switzerland (16th) and Tsinghua University, China (19th).

Looking at the number of universities in the top 1% compared to the total number of universities in each country, Singapore leads with 22%, followed by Switzerland (21%), Australia (15%), the Netherlands (14%,) Sweden (11%) and the UK (11%).

EUA warns of rankings’ pitfalls

The student satisfaction awards and the new Meta Ranking come in the wake of a recent briefing paper published by the European University Association (EUA) aimed at raising awareness among its member countries about the potential pitfalls of rankings.

The document titled Key Considerations for the Use of Rankings by Higher Education Institutions was compiled by Monika Steinel, EUA deputy secretary general.

She told University World News: “While rankings may have had some positive impact for some institutions, they continue to face sustained criticism for their choice and use of indicators, data collection methods, promotion of a single model of excellence, and lack of transparency on what they can – and cannot – tell their users about institutional quality and excellence.”

The EUA is particularly concerned about the use of rankings in informing study choices, explaining in the briefing paper: “While rankings may provide students with a general impression of an institution’s strengths or weaknesses, they do not provide an adequate assessment of educational quality.”

Steinel argues that it takes ‘critical analysis’ to identify what kind of indicators are used in rankings, and what they are intended to measure, explaining: “Some of the most influential university rankings use indicators that exclusively or predominantly relate to research activities and research outputs.

“This is not a problem per se, if users know what product they are getting and how they should go about using it. However, a research-based ranking system should not be used to select a taught undergraduate programme,” she explained.

A wider perspective

In response, Studyportals spokesperson Cara Skikne told University World News that while the EUA briefing raises important points, “the Global Student Satisfaction Awards seek to evaluate universities from the perspective of students and student experience rather than focusing on a metric like research outputs, for example”.

She also claimed the Studyportals University Meta Ranking is “more than just an average of top rankings” and that it “focuses on the percentage band where each university sits – giving students a perspective that is wider and more balanced than league table position alone”.

It lets students know whether a university is in the top 0.5% or 1% or 2% of universities globally, allowing them to find out about excellent universities which are not necessarily at the very top of a league table, she said.

Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at