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Students’ engagement with their studies has largely bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, says new report

16 Feb 2023 | The UK Engagement Survey also shows undergraduates are now interacting more often with staff but face increased pressures due to caring responsibilities and the cost of living crisis.

Students are now engaging with their undergraduate courses as much as they did prior to the Covid pandemic, according to a report out today.

The UK Engagement Survey (UKES) showed that, after a dip in engagement in 2020 and 2021, students’ engagement with their studies largely bounced back to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

The UK Engagement Survey (UKES) is produced by Advance HE and is the only nationwide survey that focuses on the time and effort students invest in their studies as well as how they engage with their learning. As such, it offers unique insights for universities wishing to understand how they can best support their undergraduates.

Engagement results

Among its findings on engagement, the report showed:

  • In four out of seven indicators of engagement, students reported engagement levels equal to or exceeding 2019 pre-pandemic levels.
  • Students reported interacting with staff more often during 2022 than during any year since 2018 which itself was a peak year for interaction since the beginning of the survey in 2015.  In 2022, 38 per cent said they saw staff ‘often’ or ‘very often’ compared to 33 per cent in 2021 and 36 per cent in 2020. The figure was equal to that reported for 2018.
  • Students reported higher levels of partnership working with staff than during any other year since the beginning of the survey with 44 per cent saying they had been encouraged to collaborate with staff ‘often’ or ‘very often’.

However, it also showed:

  • Students were still learning less together than they had done in any previous year of the report except during the height of the pandemic in 2021. Some 47 per cent of students said they had worked with fellow students ‘often’ or ‘very often’ during 2022. This was better than 2021 when only 36 per cent said they had worked with other students that frequently. However, it was substantially worse than all previous years of the report, including 2017 and 2018 in which 56 per cent of students reported working frequently with other students
  • Students reported that their courses did less to emphasis research and inquiry than they had pre-pandemic, though the challenge of their courses and opportunity they had experienced for critical thinking, reflecting and connecting remained broadly unchanged over the years of the report.

Elsewhere in the report, it showed:

  • The proportion of students managing caring responsibilities alongside their studies more than doubled from 18 per cent in 2015 to 37 per cent in 2022
  •  The proportion of students undertaking paid work in addition to studying reached 59 per cent – 16 percentage points higher than 2015 when 43 per cent of students had a paid job.
  • However, fewer students (23 per cent) considered leaving university during 2022 than during the previous three years – an indication that they were more committed to completing their studies than the previous three years’ cohorts of students.

Welcome recovery

“The survey indicates a welcome recovery in students’ engagement after a difficult period during the height of the pandemic,” said Advance HE Chief Executive, Alison Johns.

“This bounce-back is largely due to the efforts the sector has made to understand students’ changing needs and adapt the ways it enables students to access to their learning.

“It is striking that more students now say they interact with staff often and have more opportunities for working in partnership with staff than they have ever had before. That has to be good news and may underpin the positive figures the report shows for student retention.

“Students are still less likely to report working collaboratively with each other than they did before the pandemic and this is something individual institutions are likely to want to explore further to see if this area can be addressed.

Students facing challenges

“As well as student engagement, the survey also paints an important and challenging picture of the backdrop against which this cohort of undergraduates is studying.

“More students than ever are balancing caring responsibilities and paid work with their courses – something which is likely to reflect the current economic and health situation. The need for work that institutions have initiated to support mental health and mitigate the cost of living crisis remains clear.”

Advance HE publishes a range of surveys into aspects of higher education and they can be found here.

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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