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Increasing response rates in the Postgraduate Taught Experience (PTES) Survey – a new approach?

08 May 2019 | Dr Tim Young Obtaining student feedback can be challenging, but experience from Dr Tim Young - Senior Teaching Fellow, Institute of Neurology/UCL Distance Learning Clinical Neurology MSc/Diploma Course  -  shows this doesn’t need to be the case. In this blog, he discusses that new possibilities to increase response rates are available and how he successfully achieved this.

Obtaining student feedback can be challenging, but experience from Dr Tim Young - Senior Teaching Fellow, Institute of Neurology/UCL Distance Learning Clinical Neurology MSc/Diploma Course  -  shows this doesn’t need to be the case. In this blog, he discusses that new possibilities to increase response rates are available and how he successfully achieved this.

Our story

Last month I participated in a webinar presentation for Advance HE on the methods I used to increase our PTES (Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey) response rates from 14% in 2017 to nearly 70% in 2018. Gaining student feedback can be challenging for any institution and perhaps even more so for us, with nearly 100 students studying worldwide on our distance learning clinical neurology course. Also, as all our students are busy practising doctors, so time-related barriers to survey engagement can also be a factor.

Regular engagement with students

Our large distance learning course in clinical neurology has a monthly activity for which submissions are strongly advised. Unlike our formal exams, we’ve been trying to allow some flexibility for students participating in these monthly activities – unfortunately, however, this led to low engagement.

Rather than simply awarding ‘zero’ for any month without a submission, we firstly considered a monetary incentive (£100 prize draw) to increase response rates, but this had little effect. 

Secondly, we tried an approach of awarding a course-designed medal as a non-monetary incentive for participation. Whilst this led to a substantial increase in participation, student feedback suggested there was an even more powerful incentivising factor for them – it wasn’t the money or the medal: it was the individualised feedback I had been providing. Students said they felt respected and valued by this feedback, which is particularly relevant in distance learning courses.

So, you may ask, how does this link to PTES?

Applying increased student engagement to increasing PTES response rates

Running since 2009, the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) has been described as “the main source of information about students’ motivations”   Despite the great potential of this survey, student participation in PTES for our distance learning course received a challenging 14% response rate in 2017. We therefore decided to integrate our monthly activity submissions with PTES.

A new approach – a simple but effective change

Our new approach of building upon our highly individualised monthly activities involved providing specific information relevant to each individual student, then later in that same email, requesting participation in the PTES survey.

I periodically provide this type of personal feedback to each student several points in the year (note – this information did not involve student marks or assessment), however, the difference now was to link my feedback together with the student request for course feedback and guidance.

Impact: Increasing PTES response rates

The effect of our new approach meant 2018 PTES response rates for our distance learning course were 68%, including a 47% increase in responses from BME students compared to 2017.

Appreciation for our highly individualised approach was also supported through student feedback obtained. This truly individualised approach made them feel valued and far more likely to respond compared to generic email requests.

Although it was certainly a more time-consuming method (I was the only tutor performing this activity in 2018), the fact we received stronger PTES results certainly made it worthwhile.

By showing the students that we respect and value them, it is far more likely that they will feel empowered to share their views.

The Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) is the only UK higher education sector-wide survey to gain insight from taught postgraduate students about their learning and teaching experience.

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