The prevailing circumstances as many students were responding to this year’s Survey were unlike any other, with the sector, and society as a whole, facing unprecedented challenges. That there is such a range of positive results is not only an endorsement of the strength of provision across the sector as a whole, but also the agility displayed by higher education institutions in meeting student needs when moving teaching online.
Overall, students are somewhat less likely this year to feel they have received good value, an aspect that appears to be linked to disruption due to industrial action as well as the impact of Covid-19. However, while this may have impacted on contact hours, and therefore perceptions of value, there is plenty of evidence that the quality has remained high, with some key teaching measures actually improving since the beginning of the lockdown. There has also been an increase this year across the whole fieldwork period in the student experience meeting or exceeding expectations, as well as an improvement across the board in measures related to assessment.
Wellbeing remains a concern, as the “gap” between students and the rest of the younger population continues to widen, with students directly citing mental health as having an impact on their experience not meeting expectations. Accordingly, students increasingly feel it is appropriate for parents to be contacted if there is a concern over their mental wellbeing.
Contact hours have increased marginally, in spite of the timing of some of the fieldwork, but conversely satisfaction with contact hours has not, suggesting that there is a desire for a further increase in timetabled sessions. On a similar theme, average volumes of assignments have increased clearly, with findings pointing towards this being welcomed, as students look to maximise their preparations for the future.
New questions this year highlight how career focused students are, even when they apply to university. Skills, as well as academic achievements, are seen as critical to a successful future, although students from better-off backgrounds also believe in the power of social capital and feel more prepared for their futures.
As the sector considers how to support more remote and socially distanced learning, it is striking that an overwhelming majority of students feel the technology they are taught with is relatively basic in nature. Where advanced technology is used, students recognise an improvement in their experience and future potential, which provides a significant opportunity as technology assumes an even more fundamental role in how learning is delivered.