Student engagement slips as pandemic curtails collaboration

UK Engagement Survey finds less than two-thirds of undergraduates feel universities ensured quality of academic experience during Covid-19

November 11, 2021
Student in a hall of residence in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Source: Getty

Less than two-thirds of UK undergraduates feel that their universities have ensured the quality of their academic experience during the pandemic, according to a survey that reveals significant declines in key areas of student engagement.

The UK Engagement Survey, published by Advance HE on 11 November and based on the responses of 11,905 students across 19 institutions, found that 65 per cent of respondents definitely or mostly agreed that their institution had worked to ensure the quality of their academic experience during Covid-19.

Only 63 per cent agreed that they had received the support they needed from their institution in relation to coronavirus disruptions.

The results reflect the challenges of delivering degree courses online during lockdowns and restrictions on socialising, with all the student engagement measures recorded annually by the survey registering a drop in 2021.

Only 36 per cent of respondents said that they had often learned with others, down from 52 per cent in 2020. Just 33 per cent said that they had spent a lot of time interacting with staff, down 3 percentage points year-on-year.

The report warns that the drop in engagement with staff is concerning because previous analyses have linked this “very strongly” to the development of career skills and to retention, while collaboration with peers is connected to academic achievement.

Most of the areas of skill development tracked by the survey declined year-on-year, with the largest fall being on “working effectively with others”. Only 60 per cent of respondents agreed that their course had helped them develop significantly in this area, compared with 72 per cent in 2020.

The report says it is “clear from the findings that communication and interaction between staff and students was a concern during this academic period, possibly exacerbated by the impact of the lockdowns, remote learning and a lack of in-person teaching”.

“Institutes need to ensure increased methods of communication and enhanced interaction with students as we return to on-campus teaching,” it says.

Twenty-eight per cent of respondents said that they had considered leaving their course during 2021, compared with 26.5 per cent the year before, with mental health and emotional difficulties being the most frequently cited reason for thinking about dropping out. Six per cent of all respondents said that they had considered quitting for this reason.

Co-author Anne Rowan said that universities needed to take an “innovative approach” to blended learning.

“A lot of students actually told the survey that they enjoyed the online elements and that they did participate in the course content, so going forward universities need to build on that and look at how to continue that in the blended approach,” she said.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Engagement dips  during pandemic

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