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The 2023 Student Academic Experience Survey and digital resources – A student reflects

  • 23 June 2023
  • This blog has been kindly written for HEPI by Kortext (one of the sponsors of yesterday’s HEPI Annual Conference) working with Andrew, a student and EDI Disability Officer.
  • The Minister’s speech to the Conference as well as the presentation by Professor Rob Ford are both available here.

Yesterday, HEPI and Advance HE released the 2023 iteration of the annual Student Academic Experience Survey (SAES). The results always provide profound insight into student life and, with a sample size of over 10,000, they can be firmly relied upon for understanding how students are dealing with ‘the new normal’ after years heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perhaps the most substantial discovery this year was how significantly the cost-of-living crisis is influencing the student experience. Three-in-four students have felt the effects of the economic climate, while over half have had to seek out paid work to support their studies.

To gain a first-hand insight into how this financial squeeze was affecting students, we spoke to Andrew, an LLB Law and Criminology student and a Union of Students’ EDI Disability Officer. He said:

Everyone has [felt the effects of the cost-of-living crisis] really, and a lot of the students in my year have had to skip lectures to go to work, to pick up the shift so they can pay the bills.

A lot of the books that we buy, we only need for one term or one part of the degree, and it’s not necessarily what we’re going into. For example, all the students on my course had to buy the land law book, but only perhaps five of the students want to study land law out of 100.

Beyond their immediate financial struggles, the cost-of-living crisis forcing more students into paid work brings about new challenges regarding availability. As Andrew confirmed, students are being forced to miss lectures to pick up shifts to support their studies.

How are students able to access their library to secure potentially limited copies of an essential textbook if they aren’t physically able to get there because of a part-time job? For Andrew, the solution is a simple one – access to digital resources:

one student has access to every book … regardless of whether it’s on a borrowed basis or whether it’s given to them through their course.

Furthermore, for neurotypicals like my friend Josh, he doesn’t have to carry around these books. If he goes to work when he’s on a break, he can sit there and read it on his phone or his iPad and do revision while he’s at work, rather than having to carry the books to and from as well. So, it just makes life easier.

Another significant discovery of this year’s SAES is that there has been a slight increase in students whose expectations were met by their academic experience. However, for those whose expectations were not met, the survey discovered that a lack of independent study support was the biggest factor.

Nowadays, more students are studying remotely than ever before, including in entirely different countries to their institution. Therefore, it is essential that the digital campus delivers as high a quality a student experience as the physical one. 

Andrew went on to discuss how platforms can support independent learning in a collaborative way:

you can set up group functions between certain modules so you can share. You can write a note in the book and keep it for yourself, or you can share it between all your friends in the group. Better yet, a lecturer can set up the group for that module for that book and then share notes to everybody all at the same time.

All the while, this year’s survey found that mental health and wellbeing remained a dominant factor influencing student dropout. Being an advocate for mental health awareness himself, Andrew spoke in detail about how he personally works to mitigate these concerns:

For me, being an officer for the Union of Students. I make students fully aware of who I am and where I am. 

If they need to talk, they can talk to me about anything and everything. And even if it’s not a disability related issue, come to me and I’ll take you to the right person. If you need someone to sit there with you, then I’ll talk to you.

I had one student in the first year. She had a lot of anxiety and a lot of stress. She was skipping a lot of lectures and she was afraid that because her attendance had dropped and her marks had dropped, that she was not going to get into the second year. 

So, I talked through what she needs to do explained and everything. I arranged an appointment on her behalf with her personal academic tutor. She sat down with her perfectly fine, had a nice chat, got to know her, realised how friendly and nice she was, and then hopefully she’s back next year. 

She’s decided not to drop out.

In Kortext’s case, support for student completion and wellbeing is delivered by working with Solutionpath, which streamlines this process. Detailed insight and analytics of a student’s activity allow trends to be spotted earlier. Andrew cites a case study:

Nottingham Trent University are working with Solutionpath and Kortext … to be proactive rather than reactive. So, if they see a student pull away for a couple of days or skip a week, they know to phone them up and ask if anything is wrong.

They can know which areas the student is declining in, so they can offer that specific support before the student may even know that they need that support.

In short, one key finding from the results of the 2023 Student Academic Experience Survey is the need for higher education institutions to embrace their digital transformation, so that students may enjoy the highest quality learning experience and so that student completion and wellbeing can be promoted.

Want to read more? Take a look at Kortext’s blog on rethinking student engagement.

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