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Study benchmarks the experience of higher degree by research students in Australia

22 Nov 2023 | Advance HE Report published by Advance HE will provide an important benchmark which the sector can use to track progress in delivering the best possible experience for its students.

Eight out of ten higher degree by research (HDR) students express overall satisfaction with their experience, says a new report out today from Advance HE. [22 November]

For the first time, more than 1,500 HDR students from four Australian institutions took part in the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) – the largest annual survey to shine a light on satisfaction rates among postgraduate researchers in the sector.

This year’s findings are significant because they provide a benchmark against which institutions in Australia will be able to measure progress.

The report also showed:

  • HDR students were most satisfied with the supervision and the research skills training they received.
  • HDR students’ satisfaction with supervision was very similar to the total sample, although scores for Australia tended to be one or two percentage points higher.
  • They were least satisfied with the research culture and community and the opportunities they had to connect with peers.
  • Part-time students and those whose contact with staff was mostly virtual were the least satisfied, while those who mainly interacted with staff online were more likely to consider leaving.
  • Financial worries were among the key reasons students cited for considering leaving.

In his foreword to the report, Professor David Sadler, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), The University of Western Australia, said:

“We have found it incredibly valuable to understand the experience of this group, whose experience of university is naturally different to that of undergraduate or taught postgraduate students. Having a survey that is tailored specifically to their experience has been helpful in more fully understanding the ways we can more effectively support the needs of future cohorts.

“The report provides a comparison between the results of the four participating Australian institutions and the UK institutions that also took part in the 2023 survey. This benchmarking is particularly helpful from an institutional planning perspective, and it is very encouraging to see that Australian students had a favourable experience in comparison to the wider benchmarking group.

“The results have shone a light on some key differences between the experience for different groups of research students, particularly those who study online in comparison to in person, and I am looking forward to working with colleagues in my institution to focus on initiatives for these students using evidence from this survey.

Speaking in Melbourne this morning, Alison Johns, Advance HE Chief Executive, said, “I am delighted that institutions in Australia have taken part in the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey. It’s very positive for these institutions to see that the overall satisfaction with the experience among their students was relatively high, at 80%, and was marginally higher than for students across the total sample.

“Alongside benchmarking, a key driver for PRES is to offer insights for our members to help them deliver evidence-informed change and enhancements.

“We very much look forward to welcoming more institutions in Australia to participate in the survey next year.”

PRES is a major survey of the postgraduate researcher/HDR experience and aims to strike a balance between consistent questions that support comparison over time, and annual updates to reflect feedback from participating institutions in response to prevailing external conditions. For example, in 2023, it included new questions on community and belonging, reflecting prevailing discussions around the importance of students at all levels feeling part of a community.

The 2023 survey drew from more than 37,000 responses from 105 institutions across the UK and Australia and its results are published via an overarching report and one examining Australia-specific findings.

Read the Australia summary report and the full report here.


Find out more about how your institution can participate in the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey in Australia here.

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