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Positive trends for the postgraduate taught experience despite challenges in 2020

19 Nov 2020 | Advance HE More than 40,000 postgraduates participated in the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) 2020, reporting both before and during lockdown.

PTES 2020 shows that 79% of postgraduates were satisfied with their taught experience compared with 82% in 2019.

Postgraduates responded to the survey from 3 February to 15 June 2020, a reporting period which coincided with the beginning of the first UK-wide lockdown and some industrial action.

Just over 13,000 responses were received prior to lockdown, and over 28,000 responses were received during lockdown (from 16 March onwards). The data show that satisfaction overall declined sharply immediately after lockdown, by up to six percentage points, but recovered by June. The support from teaching staff and the smooth running of the course were most impacted.

Of the 28,000 responses recorded during lockdown, 19,500 offered additional comments, with a significant minority of those – 2,5000 – actually mentioning lockdown in their responses. The negative impact of lockdown on this minority would appear particularly significant given their overall satisfaction was 67%. For the other 17,000 who didn’t specifically mention lockdown, their overall satisfaction was 78%. The main areas of concern of postgraduates who referenced lockdown were ‘organisation’ (14%), ‘resources’ (14%) and teaching (12%).

Some respondents who declared a physical disability actually found their taught experience in lockdown positive, particularly around assessment, with the increased emphasis on availability of tutors and online resources. Respondents who declared a mental or learning disability found greater challenges compared to their peers, particularly when there were issues with communication and organisation due to lockdown. The shift to online learning was also an issue for some taught postgraduates who are disabled, particularly those who declared a learning disability.

In 2020, the challenges presented by lockdown or industrial action, appear to have had a significant impact on the smooth running of courses; 29% of taught postgraduates did not agree their course ran smoothly in 2020, a jump of three percentage points on 2019. However, over the longer-term, PTES shows an improving trend for better ‘organisation’, which includes timetabling, communication, guidance on starting, involvement in course decisions, and the general smooth running of the course. The majority of respondents (74%) are positive about the organisation of their course, and the proportion of taught postgraduates ‘definitely agreeing’ with statements has increased from 31% to 36% from 2014 to 2020. Similarly, postgraduates in ‘definite agreement’ that the course is ‘running smoothly’ has improved from 31% in 2014 to 34% in 2020.

There has been also been positive improvement over the last five years in student involvement in how courses are run: in 2014, just a quarter of taught postgraduates, 25%, definitely agreed they were encouraged to be involved in decisions about the course. In 2020, this has risen to 32%. This has been supported by proactive student representation, departments listening to student concerns, and the direct involvement of taught postgraduates in shaping their learning.

Report author and Advance HE Surveys Executive, Jason Leman, says, “As well as reporting on the current year, the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey plots a long-term view of the postgraduate taught experience across the UK and it’s good to see really positive trends over the past five years.

“In 2020, the immediate impact of lockdown was very significant, but this eased so that by June 2020 the taught postgraduate experience was approaching normality, with many students voicing their appreciation for the efforts of staff in moving teaching online. Lockdown appears to have been more impactful on taught postgraduates than on the research postgraduates surveyed in PRES [Postgraduate Research Experience Survey 2020] or undergraduates survey in UKES [UK Engagement Survey 2020] and seems likely that this is because many taught postgraduates are on one-year courses where lockdown represents a significant part of their experience.

Despite the challenges for postgraduates in 2020, it is encouraging that institutions are driving positive change and this report will support continued enhancement by individual institutions as well as the sector as whole.”

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.

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