Northern Ireland’s university students feel they are getting less value for money than elsewhere in the UK.
The findings come from the latest Student Academic Experience Survey.
The far-reaching survey of undergraduates will make uncomfortable reading for universities, with the rising cost of tuition fees the main cause of concern for students.
That has left many struggling to manage finances and some considering quitting their courses, though mental health and wellbeing topped the list of reasons for people who had considered leaving university behind.
Just 27% of students in Northern Ireland said they felt they were receiving good or very good value on their courses, with the overall rate falling from 37% in 2020.
The number of students who feel the university experience is worse than expected has doubled, rising from 13% in 2020 to 27% this year.
Just under 60% of people surveyed said tuition fees were the main reason for poor value, with 47% citing the amount of in-person teaching as another area of concern. Some 36% said they were unhappy with the quality of teaching at their university.
And 32% said the cost of living had affected their enjoyment of their time.
The Union of Students in Ireland has called on the Government to take action on rising tuition fees.
It also wants to see much greater investment in third-level education to prepare the workforce of the future.
“It’s very disappointing to see that university students in Northern Ireland feel they are getting less value for money from their education than anywhere else in the UK,” said Ellen Fearon, NUS-USI union president.
“The research shows that the top issues influencing students’ feelings around value for money are tuition fees, cost of living and teaching quality.
“It’s been years since the Government committed to truly investing in third-level education, and this data shows that our students are paying the price.
“With a cost-of-living crisis set to hit students hard in the new academic year, we don’t have an Executive to support them.
“Our students deserve better than this stalemate while they struggle to pay bills and learn in an underfunded system.”
Ms Fearon said it was also very concerning that a higher number of students were reporting that mental health and wellbeing issues were a major worry.
“[Mental health concerns were] the top reason for a student considering leaving their course,” she added.
“The impact of over a decade of austerity, followed by a pandemic, is taking its toll on students and young people.
“They must get the support they need while they are in education.
“Politicians and university leaders should commit to working together to tackle the root causes of poor mental health among students.”
Scotland remains the best value-for-money student experience, according to surveyed undergraduates.
Half of those attending Scottish universities said they felt the value was good or very good, though the figure was down on 63% two years ago.
Covid restrictions have had a major impact on the student experience, with many taking online lessons rather than face-to-face classes over the period.
Across the UK, most students (57%) said their experience would improve through face-to-face teaching, with just 31% preferring a blended approach and 15% online only.
Some 68% of students based in Northern Ireland said they felt the government should pay at least half of the cost of their studies.
Currently, 68% pay for their living costs through maintenance grants and loans, with 19% relying on family support and 10% on part-time employment.