The Student Academic Experience Survey, this year authored by Jonathan Neves (Advance HE) and Rachel Hewitt (HEPI), is such a rich resource that it may feel hard to know where to start. So here are ten points that stood out for me that I think are particularly worth exploring further.
- The pandemic is affecting full-time undergraduates’ perceptions of the value of their higher education – but not by as much as might be feared (for example, value-for-money perceptions are slightly lower than in 2019 but they are still higher than in 2018, 2017 or 2016).
- In the crisis, students’ perceptions of some elements of their teaching have actually improved – while this might seem counter-intuitive, online provision can, in some respects, be at least as good or even better than face-to-face provision.
- The impact of the strikes has not been forgotten by students (prompting a policy recommendation at the end on the need to improve industrial relations in the sector – which is easy to say but harder to achieve).
- Some groups of students have notably different experiences to others – perhaps most notable of all, under half of Black students (UK-domiciled) would choose the same course at the same university again.
- Only a small minority of students believe they are being exposed to advanced educational technologies (aside a huge majority who think they are being exposed to ‘basic’ edtech). But when advanced technologies are used, the student experience is much improved.
- Student wellbeing continues to decline – and is particularly low among some groups of students, such as LGB+ students. To an extent, this reflects the fact that it is a tough time to be young and it suggests that student support services should be nowhere near the front of the queue when the post-pandemic cuts come. (Despite the lower wellbeing scores, we should not forget, however, that graduates have all sorts of advantages relative to non-graduates so, while higher education can be challenging at the time it is experienced, it is also positively life transforming.)
- We are finally seeing material improvements in feedback and assessment, which has traditionally been an area of particular dissatisfaction in both The Student Academic Experience Survey and other surveys in the past.
- Students are working a little harder than they were – but are also doing more paid employment on top of their studies, which may reflect the changing make up of the student body as well as concerns about the value of maintenance support.
- Despite the level of concern in the sector about policymakers’ obsession with how much people earn after higher education, most students do willingly say they go to higher education to improve their career prospects, which is the top answer from a long list.
- There has been a material increase in the proportion of students who feel they know where their fees go, from around one-in-six students when we started asking this back in 2015 to around one-in-four students today. But there is clearly a long way still to go on this – and it is worth making progress as it will enable more informed conversations about where any future cuts might do the least damage.
Over recent weeks, universities have had to transform the way they work. This, for me, shows a huge willingness on their part to deliver for their students. But, to deliver for your students, you need to know what they think, how they feel and what they would like done differently. That is where we hope the Survey will help.