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UK undergraduates record better engagement with staff during Covid

12 Nov 2020 | Advance HE Advance HE’s UK Engagement Survey (UKES) 2020 shows evidence that students working with staff increased during lockdown. UKES provides evidenced based insights to help the enhancement of teaching and learning.

Advance HE has published UKES today, a survey of very nearly 14,000 UK undergraduates, measuring their levels of engagement from February to June 2020.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Students surveyed since the spring lockdown report higher levels of engagement in four out of seven areas. Most notably, there is higher engagement in partnering and interacting with staff, two of the areas of engagement where students have reported generally less positively than other aspects.
  • Students responding during lockdown are in fact 2% less likely to have considered leaving their course, which is a positive endorsement of how they have been supported, as well as how they have adjusted and adapted to learning under lockdown.
  • In new analysis, students who live away from campus and/ or other students show high levels of engagement which indicates that geography and living arrangements do not need to be a barrier to the quality of learning.

In terms of overall engagement, 89% of students reported finding their course challenging and 78% reported high levels of critical thinking. ‘Staff student partnership’ and ‘interacting with staff’ remain consistent with recent years at 42% and 36%, though in the period of lockdown these improved to 45% and 38% respectively. The pandemic has brought other extra-circular demands on students, including a significantly greater proportion of students spending time devoted to caring, from 26% in 2019 to 31% in 2020, and 45% specifically during the lockdown period. 

Looking at overall engagement by ethnicity of UK domicile students, BAME students again reported higher level of engagement than White students in every measure. The 2020 findings point clearly to students from BAME backgrounds putting in a significant amount of time and effort into their learning; for example, in engagement with ‘Research and Inquiry’, BAME students reported engagement levels of 71%, while White students reported 66%; in engagement in ‘staff student partnership’, the figures are 46% and 40% respectively.

In terms of retention, students surveyed this year report being marginally less inclined to consider leaving than last year: 27.4% in 2019 and 26.5% in 2020. A breakdown by pre- and during lockdown responses, shows students are less inclined still to consider abandoning their studies: 26.9% ‘pre’ and 24.9% ‘during’.

In a new area of analysis for 2020, UKES spotlights how students’ living arrangements and commuting distance links with levels of engagement. There appears to be no detrimental impact of a long commute on how a student engages or develops. Likewise, living alone and/ or away from other students is actually linked with slightly higher levels of engagement or development than the more traditional model of living close to others. The analysis shows that age appears to be a key factor in this, with older students – who tend to be those living far away from campus and not with other students –  revealing that their levels of motivation and organisation can overcome some of the potential barriers posed by distance or circumstances.

Jonathan Neves, Head of Business Intelligence & Surveys at Advance HE, said, “We know from past releases of UKES that interacting with staff is a key developmental aspect where levels have often been quite low. It is really encouraging this year to see how during the spring lockdown period that interaction with staff actually increased, which provides an opportunity for institutions to reflect on the positive initiatives that have been put in place to achieve this.

“It is also striking how many students reported a large increase in caring responsibilities during the lockdown period, which brings home the range of responsibilities that students continue to balance as they engage with their studies.

“This year has illustrated just how important it is to be in close contact with the student voice, and to do so efficiently and effectively in these particularly busy and challenging times.

“Thinking ahead to 2021, we are consulting with institutions in order to ensure that the content of UKES continues to capture key aspects of how students engage and develop so that HEIs and the sector have the critical and timely insights to make enhancements to how students engage in their learning. Next year, we will be introducing some new elements that focus specifically on student employability.”

Download Advance HE's UK Engagement Survey 2020

Call for proposals

We are currently inviting proposals for Surveys & Insights Conference 2021: Adapting to challenging times that consider themes such as 'Measuring the quality of learning' and 'Supporting students'. The deadline for submissions is 28 January 2021. Find out more here.

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