Skip to main content

Positive increase in satisfaction for postgrad research students but disabled students left behind

24 Nov 2022 | Advance HE Advance HE publishes the 2022 report of the largest annual survey of the postgraduate research experience.
  • Overall satisfaction rises slightly from 79% to 80%, stemming the small but consistent fall over the past three years. 

  • Satisfaction rates are higher and have increased in 2022 among non-UK nationals while satisfaction for UK domiciled postgraduate research students has fallen slightly. 

  • Postgraduate researchers with a declared disability experience significantly lower – and declining – levels of satisfaction. 

Postgraduate research students’ overall satisfaction has risen slightly from 79% to 80% in 2022, stemming the tide of a small but consistent fall over the past three years, according to the largest annual survey of the postgraduate research experience

Nearly 14,000 postgraduate researchers (PGRs) from 62 institutions across the higher education sector took part in Advance HE’s Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) 2022. The annual survey provides the opportunity for postgraduate research students to give feedback about their learning experience, supervision and research environment, informing activity to enhance their experience. 

Non-UK nationals report satisfaction at 82%, helping to drive the overall improvement, while satisfaction among UK PGRs is on a similar level to that experienced during the pandemic (79%). 

Many areas of the survey have improved compared to the past two years, which shows the impact of the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been strong improvements in access to resources and facilities, with PGRs often praising how their institution has adapted and developed facilities to meet their needs. Dedicated Covid-19 support was also praised, particularly the quality of communications, while overall support across aspects of academic skills, accessing or using resources, and health and wellbeing needs also received high scores. 

PGRs interacting mainly in-person due to the loosening of restrictions are the most satisfied but by contrast, half of those surveyed are still dealing with staff mainly virtually and are a lot less satisfied. 

Despite the increase in satisfaction across the total sample, the results show evidence that the experience is not the same for all postgraduate research students, with those declaring a disability experiencing significantly lower – and declining – levels of satisfaction. In most cases, disabled PGR students are more than 10% less satisfied than those with no disability. 

Jonathan Neves, Head of Business Intelligence and Surveys at Advance HE, said,  

“Although the overall increase in satisfaction is just one percentage point, there has been an encouraging increase in strength of feeling, with many more PGRs in 2022 ‘definitely’ agreeing that they are satisfied compared to 2021. As we are yet to see a recovery in satisfaction for undergraduates, as measured by the National Student Survey, this recovery in PRES is a positive finding. 

“However, PGRs with a declared disability are consistently less satisfied, and these levels of satisfaction have fallen this year. Although resources are generally praised in the survey, disabled PGRs do not feel the same and have in some cases had to make a significant effort to obtain the facilities they need. 

“One of the key aspects measured by the survey is how institutions value and respond to feedback. This has the highest correlation with satisfaction, but scores remain relatively low. Any investment to improve how feedback from PRES is acted on could have a positive return for how PGRs value their whole experience.” 

Advance HE’s Postgraduate Research Experience Survey 2022 includes four key considerations for the sector to act upon: 

  1. Satisfaction levels are lowest, and have fallen, among PGRs who interact exclusively online - it is important that everybody embarking on a postgraduate research programme knows what to expect, not just in terms of the availability of supervisors and opportunities to interact with other PGRs, but how this interaction is likely to take place.  

  1. PGRs with a declared disability are consistently less satisfied than those with no disability, and these levels of satisfaction have fallen in 2022 - more research into the experiences of disabled students at PGR level could provide the catalyst for dedicated sector-wide initiatives to understand the specific viewpoints and needs of this cohort.  

  1. PGRs do not feel their feedback is always valued and responded to - closing the feedback loop is now more important than ever to convince PGRs that their voices are listened to, and that real change can be influenced where it is required.  

  1. Covid restrictions have eased but pressures on budgets remain - doctoral schools should consider how development opportunities such as attending conferences, presenting research outputs, placements and publications can still be provided for PGR communities to help develop their confidence and wider skills.

Download Advance HE's Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) 2022 here 

Insights: Findings from Advance HE Surveys: Delivering an experience that meets expectations, and a high-quality experience for all on 2 December

This event will share findings from the 2022 Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) and Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) and highlight the areas in which students feel they need more support or ask for changes to be made. Find out more and book your place  

The Disabled Student Commitment

A consultation by the Disabled Students’ Commission is now open to ensure that disabled students in UK higher education get a better deal through the Disabled Student Commitment. Find out more and have your say 

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

Keep up to date - Sign up to Advance HE communications

Our monthly newsletter contains the latest news from Advance HE, updates from around the sector, links to articles sharing knowledge and best practice and information on our services and upcoming events. Don't miss out, sign up to our newsletter now.

Sign up to our enewsletter