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Durham Student Union ranked worst for representing students’ academic interests

An academic officer said Durham is ‘not good at listening to its students’


For the fourth year running, the DSU has ranked bottom in NSS for representing students’ academic interests.

In the 2023 National Student Survey, Durham University ranked the lowest out of all British colleges and universities when students were asked “How well does the students’ union (association or guild) represent the students’ academic interests?”. The results show that of the 2,926 undergraduate students that responded to the survey, only 33.8 per cent rated their experience with the Student Union in this respect as positive.

For the 2023 National Student Survey, the Office for Students removed the ‘neutral’ option for answering on your student experience. Commenting on this the Office for  Students states that, “in particular, the removal of the ‘neutral’ response option in 2023 means that we would expect more students to respond positively in 2023”.

The survey does reflect some progress, however, in terms of student satisfaction for the Students’ Union. When asked the same question last year, only 27 per cent of Durham students surveyed responded positively. However, it remains unknown whether this increase can be attributed to the lack of a “neutral” option this year.

When compared to the sector average given by the Office For Students in the survey’s report, the benchmark value for positive responses is posted at 67.3 per cent, meaning Durham falls roughly 33.5 per cent short of this value.

In a statement obtained by Palatinate, Durham’s pro-vice-chancellor for Education, Professor Tony Fawcett, said: “We aim to provide our students with the very best education and wider student experience.

“This feedback from our final-year students in this year’s survey is encouraging, especially as they have experienced the impact of the global pandemic and, for many, the disruption of industrial action.

“We welcome the feedback we receive from our students through the National Student Survey, as well as in other formats, and listen carefully.

“As well as telling us what we are doing well, the NSS provides valuable information that helps us to understand where we might improve. We are looking closely at the survey to identify where we can take positive action for the benefit of our current and future students.”

Moreover, the Student Union’s undergraduate academic officer William Brown said: “this year’s NSS results give us valuable insight into students’ Durham experience. One clear trend in the data is that Durham is not good at listening to its students. It is the SU’s duty to ensure our members are heard, and we recognise that there is still significant room for improvement.”

He goes on to describe how “this problem extends well beyond the SU – the university scored in the bottom quartile nationally for the questions regarding students’ opportunities for giving feedback on their course and their feedback being listened to by the university. Indeed, the university has not finished in the top 50 per cent of institutions on any student voice question in the last five years. Clearly, the current mechanisms through which students’ academic interests are represented are not working, and we are already exploring ways to significantly reform and improve these”.

Brown is referring to a section of the survey dedicated to garnering feedback on the student union, freedom of expression and communications on mental wellbeing support services, known as theme 7. For the question, “How well communicated was information about your university college’s mental wellbeing support services”, Durham scored 71.2 per cent in terms of positive feedback against a benchmark of 74.3 per cent. For the question, “during your studies, how free did you feel to express your ideas, opinions and beliefs?”, Durham scored 85.2 per cent from students, against a benchmark of 86.7 per cent.