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Postgraduate researchers are positive about their experience despite high anxiety

07 Nov 2019 | Jonathan Neves Over 50,000 postgraduate researchers (PGRs) respond to Advance HE’s annual Postgraduate Research Experience Survey PRES.

Advance HE’s annual Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) shows that over 80% of PGRs are positive about their research experience. PRGs are motivated by the interest in their subject more than any other factor, and their positive response is broadly in the same range across all subject areas.

Responding to new wellbeing questions in this year’s survey, PGRs reveal striking levels of anxiety, with only 14% reporting that they have low anxiety. This compares with 41% of the general population with low anxiety as reported by the Office for National Statistics in May this year.

In other measures of wellbeing, PGRs also reported less positively when compared with the UK general population, but less starkly so than in the measure of anxiety: 

•        Life satisfaction – PGRs 23%, UK population 31%

•        Life happiness – PGRs 23%, UK population 35%

•        Life worthwhile – PGRs 35%, UK population 36%.

PGR anxiety levels may be explained by the marked decrease in confidence they report with regards to completing within timescales: in Year One, 86% are confident they will complete; by Year Five, 74% are still confident they will complete; and of those with the most extended periods, only 62% are confident of completion 

A new section in this year’s survey gave PGRs the opportunity to provide free text comments on areas for improvement in their experience. Analysis of more than 10,000 of the comments identified the three most cited suggestions for improvement as: Learning support (38%), Working culture and environment (24%) and programme design (23%).

The report also shows that 26% of PGRs had at some point considered giving up their studies. It’s important to note that the main reasons they give are not in always in direct control of institutions such as ‘health, family or personal problems’ (16%), ‘financial difficulties’ (14%) and ‘difficulty balancing commitments’ (13%).

Jonathan Neves, Advance HE Head of Business Intelligence and Surveys, said, “It’s clear that PRGs are, in the main, really positive about their experience – and that’s very encouraging. The figure has been flat-lining at around 80-82% since the peak of 2010-11 when it was closer to 86%, and this year’s analysis offers good pointers as to where PGRs think improvements could be made.

“The levels of anxiety PGRs report is a concern and we are exploring the data further so that the sector has solid evidence to support its enhancement initiatives.”  

Over 100 institutions took part in PRES this year. PRES 2020 is open for participation – please contact surveys@advance-he.ac.uk for further information.

The full report: PRES 2019

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