The 2017 Student Academic Experience Survey, published today by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), shows:
- how hard students are working;
- how satisfied they are with their lives; and
- what they think of recent government policies.
Over 14,000 full-time undergraduates took part in the survey this year. Full report, available to download here
In response to a brand new question on learning gain, two-thirds (65%) of students in UK higher education say they have learnt “a lot”. There is also evidence that perceptions of teaching quality are rising, with year-on-year increases in students’ perceptions of the characteristics of their teaching staff. Compared to last year, a higher proportion of students think:
- course goals are explained clearly (up from 63% to 65%);
- teaching staff motivate students to do their best work (from 51% to 54%); and
- staff help students explore their own areas of interest (from 33% to 37%).
In contrast, perceptions of value for money are falling. Across the UK, nearly as many students (34%) now think they are receiving poor value as think they are receiving good value (35%). This year, declining perceptions of value are evident among students from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland but the biggest decline is in Scotland.
The Survey includes the most detailed and widely-used data on student wellbeing, and confirms student wellbeing is lower than for the rest of the population. For example, only one-in-five students (19%) report low anxiety, compared to twice as many (41%) people in the population as a whole. However, students who say they have learnt “a lot” have higher levels of wellbeing, indicating how higher education institutions and students can work to improve the results in the future.
Next week, the first Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) results are expected to be published and, in future, universities will only be able to raise their fees if they perform well in the TEF. But the survey shows the vast majority of students (76%) are firmly opposed to TEF-linked fee rises.
In terms of teaching, the data suggest a combination of methods delivered in sufficient volume can benefit learning. The report also indicates the link between contact hours and value is evolving, with students more satisfied with fewer contact hours than their predecessors.
There is inconsistency between the attributes students want their staff to display and the attributes they do display. For example, almost all (94%) students want their staff to undertake continuous professional development in teaching but far fewer (57%) think this happens.
The Survey explains the relative underperformance of students from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds in detail. For example, Black students record lower levels of engagement (43% feel motivated to “do their best” by staff compared to 59% of White students). Asian students are less likely to feel they are learning “a lot” than White students (59% versus 66%). This may be partly explained by accommodation choice: 60% of Asian respondents live at home while studying, compared to just 24% of all respondents. The authors call for higher education institutions to explore the “sticky campus” concept to ensure all students are fully integrated.
The Survey additionally paints a more detailed picture of the experiences of students of different sexual orientations than ever before. Students who identify as straight do better on each of the four wellbeing measures than other students. This suggests higher education institutions have further to go in providing a fully supportive environment for people of all sexual orientations.
The Survey also includes detailed information about the experience of students at alternative providers for the first time. Only a small proportion of respondents are at alternative providers and they are typically in the bigger, better-known alternative providers which are atypical. However, it is still notable that those alternative providers’ students who are covered by the Survey provide more positive responses in many areas than respondents as a whole. For example, they are:
- more likely to believe they have enough information on where their fees go (35% versus 20% for all respondents);
- more likely to be having an experience that is exceeding their original expectations (35% versus 25%); and
- more likely to think they are getting good value (54% versus 35%).
In response to a new question asking UK-domiciled students about studying alongside students from outside the UK, 36% responded positively, 32% were unaware of any benefits and the remainder were neutral. More needs to be done to explain the benefits of learning within a diverse environment to students.
Principal author Jonathan Neves, HEA Head of Surveys, said:
“The positive responses to our new questions about learning gain and on teaching quality are encouraging. But the feedback also shows that there is important work required to address the less positive academic experience of minority groups, and to realise the potential benefits from studying alongside non-UK students.”
”The decline in perception of value is of concern, and highlights how complex this issue is. It’s revealing that only 19% of students believe they receive enough information on how their fees are spent. And this suggests that institutions need deeper engagement and personalisation of approach with students at every stage of their higher education experience to meet their expectations better.”
Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:
“This is the biggest sector-wide survey on what students think throughout their time in higher education. It needs to be taken seriously by universities and whoever is in Government after the election. Much of the story is positive, but students are less happy and more anxious than non-students.
“The survey proves beyond doubt that the student experience differs depending on ethnicity, the type of accommodation and sexual orientation. Such factors have a direct impact on how engaged students are with their studies as well as on their overall quality of life. For a truly great academic experience, we need to think ever more deeply about how to respond to the individual characteristics of each student.
“The election has seen a lively battle for student votes. The Survey shows students want universities to provide information on where fees go, taxpayers to cover more of the costs and policymakers to provide stronger arguments for future fee rises.
“Above all, the Survey confirms higher education transforms lives but also that it does not currently help all students equally.”