The survey captures the experiences of learners within an exceptional societal event and provides a stark contrast between comparative years
COVID-19 has substantially affected the lives of students in higher education. That’s according to the results of this year’s Irish Survey of Student Engagement StudentSurvey.ie) and Irish Survey of Student Engagement for Postgraduate Research Students PGR StudentSurvey.ie, published today.
The findings, published in two in-depth reports and launched earlier today by Senator Annie Hoey, are available on the StudentSurvey.ie website.
Feedback from thousands
Almost 44,000 first and final year undergraduate students and students on taught postgraduate programmes, across 25 higher education institutions, took part in StudentSurvey.ie between February and March 2021, representing 28.4% of the total survey population.
The percentage of students agreeing with each statement in the survey is lower than 2020 in almost every single area – indicating the major impact that COVID-19 had on students during the 2020-2021 academic year.
WIT Registrar and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr Derek O’Byrne described this year’s StudentSurvey.ie data as unique. “It captures the experiences of learners within an exceptional societal event and provides a stark contrast given different environments between the comparative years. It is not surprising that the first year experience appears less connected and less engaged and it is somewhat energising to see the technological sector’s scores on collaborative working and accessibility to staff tend to remain above the average.
“This year’s data reflects positively for the educational partners whose agility and flexibility was tested beyond the maximum. Perhaps, a hidden benefit of that challenge is captured in this year’s student survey in so far as it highlights the elements of positive experience upon which new and emerging models for higher education may ripen.”
Commenting on the results of the two student surveys, IT Carlow Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Registrar David Denieffe said, “I thank all the IT Carlow students, and students from other higher education institutions around the country, for participating in StudentSurvey.ie and the PGR StudentSurvey.ie. The findings reflect the stresses and challenges borne out of the pandemic and how COVID-19 has impacted on the lives of students across higher education, and the onus is on institutions to utilise the results for the benefit of students in the months ahead”.
“Both surveys will be of great value and use to IT Carlow and the new technological university as we continue our ongoing work in enhancing the student experience. The responses and feedback, individually and collectively, will inform the student-centred work we do across our campuses”, commented Denieffe.
Speaking about the overall results of this year’s Irish Survey of Student Engagement, Dr Siobhán Nic Fhlannchadha of StudentSurvey.ie) commented, “Everyone has suffered due to the impact of COVID-19, and students are no exception. They have shown tremendous resilience, with many respondents to StudentSurvey.ie and PGR StudentSurvey.ie 2021 showing positivity and strength in their responses, along with recognising the efforts being made by their HEI to support them in difficult circumstances.”
First year experience
The results also highlighted that the undergraduate experience of first year students was negatively affected by the impact of COVID-19, with first year undergraduates in the 2020-2021 academic year returning scores significantly lower than previous years for almost all areas of the survey.
- 47.0% of first year undergraduate students indicated that the quality of their interactions with other students was excellent, or close to excellent, in 2021 compared to an 80.3% average in 2018-2020.
- 37.2% of first year undergraduate students indicated that the quality of their interactions with academic staff was excellent, or close to excellent, in 2021.
- The average from surveys in 2018-2020 was 64.1%.
- 26.4% of first year undergraduate students prepared for exams by discussing or working through course material with other students often or very often in 2021, compared to 44.5% average in 2018-2020.
- 12.2% of first year undergraduate students believed that their institution emphasised social opportunities very much in 2021, down from 23.2% in 2018-2020.
- 33.7% of first year undergraduate students discussed course topics, ideas, or concepts with academic staff outside of class in 2021. The average from surveys in 2018-2020 was 48.8%.
Postgraduate research experience
The second survey, PGR StudentSurvey.ie, was directed at postgraduate research students, who are surveyed every two years. A total of 3,541 postgraduate research students, including Masters by Research and PhD students, across 21 higher education institutions, responded to PGR StudentSurvey.ie, representing a response rate of 34%. Fieldwork for this survey also took place between February and March 2021.
The postgraduate research students’ responses to questions specifically addressing the impact of COVID-19 on their experience point to significant differences between the arts, humanities, social sciences (AHSS) and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) groups in relation to funding, on-campus facilities, and a suitable home study environment. The results also indicate that STEM postgraduate researchers have been able to avail of opportunities more readily than AHSS postgraduate researchers.
52% of male respondents to PGR StudentSurvey.ie indicated they had submitted a paper for publication in an academic journal or book, compared to 46.7% of female respondents. 17.5% of female respondents had considered withdrawing from their programme of study due to personal or family reasons compared to 13.8% of male respondents. The results point to the possibility of a gendered aspect to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could disproportionately affect the career progression of female postgraduate research students.
Other results from PGR StudentSurvey.ie 2021 included:
68.2% of respondents had a suitable working space.
86.3% of respondents had regular contact with their supervisor(s), appropriate for their needs.
47.0% of respondents had frequent opportunities to discuss their research with other research students.
69.4% of respondents had attended an academic research conference.
80.4% of respondents felt that their research degree programme is worthwhile.