Crisis ‘may have impacted’ UK student perceptions of value already

Hepi/Advance HE annual survey highlights small decline in satisfaction following crisis-driven shift to online teaching

June 11, 2020
Black student at laptop
Source: Getty

The coronavirus crisis and the shift to online teaching “may have impacted” already on students’ perceptions of the value of their university experience, according to the latest edition of the major Higher Education Policy Institute/Advance HE survey.

The results of this year’s Student Academic Experience Survey, of more than 10,000 UK undergraduates, found that students who completed the survey after 16 March 2020, when most university teaching moved online, were slightly less positive than those who filled it in before that date.

Of those who completed the survey after that date, 38 per cent reported that they received “good” or “very good” value, whereas 40 per cent of those who reported before that date said the same.

The report highlights this decline: “Looking at how perceptions of value vary by fieldwork date, we can see that students interviewed in late March/early April were less likely to feel they have received ‘good’ value. The differences are not huge…but in the context of some positive results elsewhere in this report, we can speculate here that a change to teaching necessitated by Covid-19 may have impacted on value perceptions.”

Overall, the perception of good value for money declined from 41 per cent last year to 39 per cent.

The impact of the pandemic crisis is notable in the “free-text” responses to the survey’s questions about value for money, which include “significant” mentions of Covid-19. These included comments such as “Coronavirus means I’ve paid £9k for ONE seminar this term”. Another student referred to “only being at university for 2 months and having to leave by mid-March due to Covid 19 & still having to pay the 9 grand for tutoring fees”.

The report noted that there were also a number of responses relating to lectures missed because of staff strikes.

“These comments highlight that many students directly measure value in terms of face-to-face contact, and the first part of 2020 has seen two major issues which have impacted upon this,” the Hepi/Advance HE report says.

The report also found that average contact hours had risen from 13.9 hours in 2019 to 14.6 in 2020.

Students are spending fewer hours in large classes, groups of 51-100 or more than 101, and more time in medium-sized classes, of 16-50. There was also a rise in the amount of time being spent in the smallest classes, groups of up to five and 6-15.

This year’s survey found a higher proportion of students – 26 per cent – reported that their experience had been “better than expected”, compared with last year’s 22 per cent. The number of students who said it had “been worse” stayed the same, at 13 per cent, and those who said it was exactly as expected remained unchanged.

However, black students were less likely to report that it was better than expectations and were the only group where less than half – 45 per cent – would choose the same course and institution again. This is compared with 68 per cent of white students who said they would choose the same course and institution again.

Rachel Hewitt, director of policy and advocacy at Hepi, said it was “dispiriting” to see that there are some groups whom higher education is not serving as well.

Ms Hewitt also noted that the findings showed that although a small proportion – 7 per cent – of students had access to “advanced” technology in the past academic year, those who used it were more likely to say they “would choose same course and university again” and “have learnt a lot”.

“Universities should take heed of the findings…The experience for students in the next academic year is unlikely to replicate a ‘usual’ experience, but there are opportunities to offer a positive alternative experience to students,” she said.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Crisis ‘may have impacted’ UK student satisfaction already

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