In Blog

Researching potential universities can be a difficult task – especially when you are trying to do it from the other side of the world!

And then, what do you look for? Academic excellence – yes. Graduate employability – yes. But one of the major factors that will affect not only how you perform in your university studies, but also how you feel whilst you study abroad, is the overall student experience.

Every year, the Times Higher Education’s Student Experience Survey ranks UK universities in terms of their overall student experience and covers a whole range of areas including

  • Academic experience: quality of staff and lectures, course structure and workload
  • University facilities: convenience, food & beverage facilities, affordability, sporting facilities and library
  • Social experience: social life, extra-curricular activities and societies, community atmosphere on campus
  • Student welfare: personal requirements catered for and welfare services
  • Accommodation
  • Industry connections
  • Security
  • Student union

After surveying almost 16,000 undergraduates, the survey identifies the UK universities offering the best student experience – and DIFC’s partner universities on the NCUK network feature prominently. Let’s take a look.


University of Sheffield – #3

Located in the city of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, the University of Sheffield is a public research university, a member of the Russell Group of research-led universities, and one of the UK’s original redbrick universities. Today the university teaches 25,000 students, including around 3,900 international students from 120 countries, and employs approximately 6,000 staff.

What really drives Sheffield’s consistently high student experience rating is the Students’ Union. University of Sheffield’s Students’ Union is the most highly rated in the country, receiving a mark of 6.7 out of 7 – one of the highest for any category in the survey. From three nights of entertainment a week to the introduction of a ‘time out space’ for students, the Student Union really looks to make the University campus an inclusive and welcoming place for students.

The union is proactive in all aspects of student life – from setting up its own letting agency to facilitate fair deals for student housing to launching a mental health campaign to help students cope with the increased stress and anxiety that comes with studying at University.


University of Leeds – #4

The University of Leeds is among the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. It offers over 500 undergraduate and more than 200 postgraduate-degree courses. It has been ranked in the top 10 UK universities for student experience for the seventh year running, which proves that student experience is at the centre of the University’s culture.

The University works in close partnership with Leeds University Union to ensure students are involved in and shape decision-making at all levels, a defining feature of education at Leeds.

The University’s campus environment, student union, social life and extra-curricular activities and societies were voted as being particularly strong. Libraries, sports and teaching facilities are also highly regarded. In particular, there are over 32,000 students from over 147 countries providing a real vibrancy about the campus and facilitating a truly global community for students.


Queen’s University Belfast – #9

Queen’s University Belfast is the ninth oldest university in the UK and boasts a cohort of more than 17,000 – including 1,800 international students from 100 countries – enrolled across three faculties: arts, humanities and social sciences; medical, health and life sciences; and engineering and physical sciences.

Another regular in the top rankings for student experience, Queen’s has a long term commitment to creating a dynamic environment that is world-leading and that provides life-enhancing opportunities for our students. In fact, over the past 10 years, they have invested £350m into their campus on state-of-the-art facilities and buildings to bolster an already world class student experience.

Queen’s features a great international student community with 32% of their 17,000 students coming from abroad.


University of Birmingham – #20

Founded in 1900, the University of Birmingham prides itself on a longstanding tradition of innovation and progressive initiatives. The modern university is home to 26,000 students, 5,000 of them international. With 31% of its academic staff also from overseas, Birmingham lays claim to one of the most diverse campuses in the UK and encourages a global outlook. Students can take advantage of a number of opportunities to internationalise their degree: around 450 undergraduates complete a year abroad as part of their course.

What makes the student experience in Birmingham so unique is the Guild of Students, who are incredibly proactive in making sure students get the best from their Birmingham experience. It runs 250+ student groups, societies and associations and is also one of the biggest employers of students on campus! Include in the student groups are a whole host of cultural & international societies representing students from a range a backgrounds.


You can progress to any one of these – or our other UK partner universities – on successful completion of our International Foundation Year or Pre-Masters programmes. Find out more here.


Recommended Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search

Male giving advice to a student sitting at a tablePicture of the outside of Cork University with some students sitting, walking and standing talking