Skip to main content

Exclusive Insight Into UK Universities And their Net Promoter Scores | HE Research Snippet #5

Net Promoter Scores (NPS) have been touted as the ‘Ultimate Question’ for business leaders because of their strong positive correlation with revenue growth. Bain & Co, the...

Tags: HE Thinking

Ben Marks
Ben Marks

Ben is YouthSight's founder and CEO. He's a well-renowned personality in the market research industry and has great connections with the MRS and HEPI.

Net Promoter Scores (NPS) have been touted as the ‘Ultimate Question’ for business leaders because of their strong positive correlation with revenue growth. Bain & Co, the co-developers of the metric, claims that companies and organisations with the highest scores in a sector can expect to grow at over twice the rate of competitors1.

With so much currently at stake for the HE sector, we wanted to find out which HEIs have the highest (and lowest) scores.

NPS is based around a short question which is used to determine whether customers are ‘promoters’ or ‘detractors’ of a brand or organisation2. The approach has its critics (and we do accept much of this as valid3). But, on balance, we believe it is a simple and useful addition to the armory of market research customer satisfaction tools. That’s why we set about collecting and comparing the Net Promoter Scores of nearly every HEI in the UK based on the views of new full-time undergraduate students in our Higher Expectations survey.

So what did we find? Based on our 2011/12 data (our most up-to-date data is now available), we’ve been able to make two key observations:


UK HEIs yield a very wide range of Net Promoter Scores.

The top performing institution gets a score of +81 while the lowest performing gets a score of -24 (the theoretical range is from +100 to -100). Traditional universities generally score higher than Post ’92 universities. But among the elite ‘research intensives’ there are some surprisingly low scores.Within mission groups the range is narrower but is still surprisingly broad. Figure 1 (below) shows this range, including the sector and group averages.

Figure 1: Average NPS by institution within mission group

Figure 1: Higher Expectations 2011/12. Base: Full-time undergraduate starters at UK HEIs – 13,050


Within each mission group there are typically one or two clear ‘stars’, one or two clear ‘laggards’ and a very wide range of scores in the middle, with a cluster towards the centre; in other words, a normal distribution. If Bain & Co is right, it’s important that HEIs know where they sit on this distribution. And almost more important is that HEIs know what it is that the stars and laggards are doing right - and wrong. Subscribers to Higher Expectations get access to this granular data.

Furthermore, starting this year, we have been able to collect the open-ended responses from the promoters and detractors for each HEI, asking them to describe, in their own words, why they give such positive or negative scores. This revealing testimony is now available to all ‘Module 3’ subscribers at a granular level via our ‘Word of Mouth Search Engine’4.


HE, as a whole, performs well in terms of Net Promoter scores.

The data we have collected across the sector shows that there are 3.6 advocates for every detractor. On average, the HE sector has a score of 40. To provide some context (and although it is difficult and perhaps inappropriate to compare NPS across sectors/industries), these scores compare favourably to scores in a number of industries included in Satmetrix’s 2012 European Net Promoter Industry Benchmarks, some examples of which are shown below in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Satmetrix’s 2012 European Net Promoter Industry Benchmarks

  Industry sector
Rank Banking Mobile phone handsets Computer hardware Internet service providers
1 First Direct - 62 Apple iPhone - 69 Apple - 59 Virgin Media – 16
2 Nationwide - 33 Samsung - 49 Sony - 44 Sky - 15
3 Natwest - 16   Acer - 33  
Unknown Unknown 38 0


Higher Expectations 2012/13 presents views of the first cohort of students paying up to £9,000 per year for their degree. Make the most of this opportunity to discover the verdict on this ‘new order’ of HE – and how your institution fares.

Beat your rivals, find out where you underperform and why.

Ready to chat? Questions about our research? Want to see how Higher Expectations can help you?