research student satisfaction
Study reveals research prestige is linked to student satisfaction in Germany. Source: Shutterstock

You might be surprised to learn what made students in Germany rate high levels of student satisfaction.

A new study, released by Inside Higher Ed, reported students rated the teaching, job prospects and curriculum much higher when their university was labelled as “excellent” by the government – despite the label having nothing to do with the measures.

The co-author of the study claimed the results further the argument that student satisfaction scores are easily skewed and therefore unreliable.

As Germany grows in popularity with international students, and its universities gain more and more exposure, its reputation grows with it.

Since 2005, Germany’s Excellence Initiative program has instilled a need in universities to compete for “excellence” status awarded by the government.

This status appears to be significantly increasing student numbers.

Speaking with Inside Higher Ed, University of Cologne economics researcher Mira Fischer, whose thesis compromised part of the study, claimed after universities were deemed excellent, a flurry of applications came in from students with higher grades than usual.

And this wasn’t only evident through application numbers, current students also rated the universities higher across many different measures.

Was it because the universities received extra funding due to their excellence status? Considering the satisfaction scores soared higher almost immediately after the universities gained their status, it seems unlikely.

All universities saw the same pattern. Students were reporting higher rates of satisfaction before they were even benefitting from the extra money the status presented.

Even if the universities had used the funding, it was gifted toward research, which is highly unlikely to benefit or even affect students directly.

So why were students reporting higher levels of satisfaction? Fischer claimed it likely stems from the thought ‘if my university has excellent status, it must have been better than I thought’.

Fischer said it is unlikely anything actually changed, adding “if anything, resources were diverted away from teaching because of the excellence initiative”, because staff were busier in their research.

And it’s the same in the UK: most international students – and domestic for that matter – don’t understand the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) used to award the country’s universities.

“Students respond to these labels that are based on research [but a] more general question is whether students actually understand these labels,” Fischer told Inside Higher Ed.

The research did find, however, that since the increase in the numbers of institutions being awarded excellence status in Germany has slowed, the effect has slowed with it. Now, excellence rating is mostly significant in the rating of the practical usefulness of students’ courses.

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