Findings from the Higher Education Academy’s Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) 2015 found taught postgraduates were positive about their experience, with 82% of respondents giving a positive rating across their learning experience and 79% rating engagement positively. These figures remain consistent with last year’s results.
Over 72,000 students from 100 higher education providers took part in the survey, continuing the upward trend in participation (up from 67,580 the previous year). Over half (57%) of all taught postgraduates in the UK had the opportunity to complete the survey, reinforcing the position of PTES as the preeminent survey for enhancement at taught postgraduate level across the sector.
The survey found that taught postgraduates were more likely to be positive about their learning experience where their course experience reflected their motivations for studying. Almost 70% of respondents indicated more than one motivation for study, with younger respondents tending to be motivated by personal interest and improving their career prospects, and older respondents most likely to be motivated by interest in the subject. The research indicated that a good fit between what students wanted from their course and what the course delivered resulted in a positive experience.
Both statistical analysis and analysis of student comments found that unmanageable workload harms the overall student experience and the quality of their learning.
While 79% of full-time Masters students in Education agreed their workload was manageable, only 55% of those taking a full-time certificate or diploma in the subject agreed. In general, respondents taking a certificate or diploma appeared to find research skills and independent learning less relevant, but the organisation of the course strongly impacted on overall course satisfaction. The smooth running of these courses should therefore be a priority to minimise impact upon overall satisfaction and learning outcomes.
Also launched today is an analysis of taught postgraduate comments from the 2014 PTES survey by Elena Zaitseva and Claire Milsom from Liverpool John Moores University. Using the Leximancer software they analysed the equivalent of 4,500 pages of comments to explore the taught postgraduate experience. Their report, In their own words: Analysing students’ comments from the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey, carries a number of recommendations on how to improve the experience of taught postgraduates.
Key findings include:
- scheduled contact time with staff and peers was highly valued, especially for part-time and distance-learning students. The ability to network with fellow students helped with learning and helped motivate students to successfully complete their course;
- difficult-to-manage workload had a direct impact on the quality of work and student learning outcomes. Efforts to make courses joined up, reducing unmanageable spikes in workload, and ensure the smooth running of courses would improve both the student experience and learning outcomes;
- a consistent experience across teaching and assessment was found to be important, particularly as many courses had contributions from a range of expert staff, including research and/or practice specialists, with different approaches and expectations.
Dr Mark Jones, Chief Operating Officer at the HEA, said: “The motivations and experience of taught postgraduate students is diverse, but our research shows that there is good practice that applies across the sector. Perhaps most important is having contact with staff and peers that can help motivate and guide the student towards getting what they want out of the course. Whether studying for personal interest or to get a job, postgraduates want a good learning experience”
This was the sixth consecutive PTES, with a national response rate of 29.4%. A national report on the 2015 survey results, What do taught postgraduates want? by Jason Leman, Surveys Officer at the HEA, looks in detail at the motivations and experience of taught postgraduate students.
An online webinar presenting the results from the two reports is being held on 20 January 2016. The lunchtime webinar is from 12:30 to 13:30 - those interested can just click the webinar link to join on the day.
Understanding more about the key issues and challenges of postgraduate study is the focus of work which is being conducted by a sub-group of the UK Council for Graduate Education’s (UKCGE) Postgraduate Student Experience Working Group. They have launched a national survey exploring the responsibilities of postgraduate programme directors which aims to build on a successful pilot study carried out by the working group earlier in the year. You can read more about it on the UKCGE website.