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Student satisfaction or happiness? A preliminary rethink of what is important in the student experience

Aftab Dean (Leeds Business School, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK)
Paul Gibbs (Institute for Work Based Learning, Middlesex University, London, UK)

Quality Assurance in Education

ISSN: 0968-4883

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




This paper aims to investigate the purpose of the complex open system of higher education and to explore this transformative experience as personal flourishing, where students come to terms with a way of being, matching their potentiality with their agency and leading to profound happiness. There is influential, but not uncontested (Tsinidou et al., 2010), literature concerning higher education institutes as education service providers, functioning like any other business (DeShields, 2005). Eagle and Brennan (2007, p. 4) argue that academic staff as service providers are thus vital to process delivery. Using a service model and traditional corporate quality frameworks, there is a temptation to measure how a service ethos serves recipients and co-producers – students, donor, industry and sponsors – negating education’s transformative and uncertain nature, rather than taking the externality of process delivery as a guide.


The research is based on a questionnaire designed and administered to two cohorts of students in different universities in the UK. It presents the outcomes as indicative results and draws preliminary conclusions on how the student experience might be engaged with to increase happiness as well as satisfaction.


The results show a distinct notion of happiness which has specific attributes from those that deliver satisfaction.


The literature on student experience and more importantly, its reporting conflate happiness and satisfaction. This research shows that they are different, and offers a new way of looking at the student experience data.



Dean, A. and Gibbs, P. (2015), "Student satisfaction or happiness? A preliminary rethink of what is important in the student experience", Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 5-19.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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