UKES 2016 - undergraduates engaged in their courses but only half feel equipped for the world of work

Thursday, 3 November, 2016

Results from UKES 2016, the HEA’s undergraduate engagement survey, released today, show that while overall 88% of undergraduates say they find their course challenging, just 51% reported that they have strongly developed the skills that ready them for the world of work and will help them get a job.

The UKES 2016 survey of over 23,000 undergraduates is the only major undergraduate survey in the UK higher education sector that measures students’ engagement with their studies.

This year’s survey highlights strong levels of engagement through course challenge:

  • 94% of students report taking responsibility for their own learning
  • 88% are ‘challenged to do their best work’

Less encouraging, however, is that only 27% of undergraduates have discussed ideas with staff outside class and still fewer, 20%, had talked to staff about their career plans. While the levels of engagement in pre and post-1992 institutions were broadly comparable in areas such as critical thinking and course challenge, students at post-1992 institutions would appear to engage more closely with staff (37%), than those at pre-1992s (26%).

By measuring both engagement and skills development within the same data set, UKES can pinpoint links between the two. In this case, HEA analysis shows that students who collaborate most with staff and other students are also the most likely to feel their career skill development has been maximised– highlighting the importance of trying to improve the relatively low levels of engagement in these areas.

The report paints a very positive 86% score across all subject areas for students in developing their skills as independent learners. Nevertheless, there are striking differences in some of the softer skills areas, for example where some STEM subjects - mathematics in particular - showed much lower levels of development than social studies or subjects allied to medicine.

HEA Chief Executive Professor Stephanie Marshall said, “It’s very encouraging to see that students are closely engaged with their degree programmes and taking responsibility for their learning.

“But the lower scores in the area of interaction with staff show that opportunities are being missed to help and support students to develop as more rounded individuals. And that’s important in helping students fulfil their potential beyond university. We are working with a number of institutions, both in the UK and internationally, to support their engagement and employability strategies. We are finding these strategic approaches make a difference.

“At the other end of the student journey, institutions may want to use this evidence to look at how they engage with first year students as they transition into university. The relatively lower engagement score for this group may be explained by students having to adapt their learning styles, and UKES provides insight and data to support approaches to easing this transition.”

UKES is designed to generate data to inform drivers of enhancement of the student experience within institutions. Data can be used to identify areas where students are spending their time and ‘engaging’, thereby bringing about ‘deep’ learning, as well as where they are not spending as much time as expected. All this information can also be combined with students’ perception of how they are developing their higher level skills to promote meaningful dialogue that enables institutions, and the sector overall, to ensure pedagogic approaches which bring about the best possible student learning outcomes.”

Find the full report here

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