Satisfaction levels fall among master’s students

Satisfaction was lowest among those taught wholly online during the last academic year, the Advance HE survey found

A survey of more than 70,000 master’s students suggests three-quarters did not receive teaching as expected, being taught wholly or mainly online during the most recent academic year.

The Advance HE Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey found that the number of satisfied master’s students dropped to 78%, the lowest score recorded in its decade-long history.

Sixty-eight per cent of those surveyed agreed that mental health and wellbeing support met their needs – the “most concerning” statistic, Advance HE identified, was that 12% felt that this form of support was satisfactory. It said qualitative feedback from respondents was “often full of praise” for the support received – but indicated universities need to be more proactive and timely, especially given that many PGT courses last only a year.

Respondents with a disability were 11 percentage points less likely to say academic skills support and health and wellbeing support met their needs. Those with a mental health issue were 12 percentage points less likely to say wellbeing support was good enough.

In 2019, 14% of master’s students were taught online for the most part, but that figure has risen to 87% following the pandemic, survey analysis suggests. Those taught online reported less contact time; satisfaction rates in this area and, as a result, in the course more generally, were lower than their peers taught in-person or a mixture of the two. Of those that expected to be taught online, 60% were satisfied with their contact time – compared to 73% that received blended teaching.

Many comments in the survey made clear how often staff and students worked to connect with each other, support each other, and create a good learning experience
– Jonathan Neves, Advance HE

Only 65% agreed that they had had opportunities to engage with other students this year, compared with 79% before the pandemic.

Master’s students taught through a mixture of in-person and online also reported the highest satisfaction levels with the academic experience, communications and support.

Advance HE warned the percentage of students that feel their workload is manageable feel starkly, from 73% to 67%. The report suggested this may be because universities removed some of the flexibility around deadlines extended to students during the 2020 academic year. The survey found that the flexibility of online learning was “highly valued by students who were balancing other commitments, including those who had expected in-person teaching”.

An Advance HE survey of postgraduate researchers found that 63% thought university wellbeing support during the pandemic met their needs.

Jonathan Neves, head of surveys and insights at Advance HE said: “The pandemic was still a defining part of the student experience for this year’s taught postgraduates. We’ve found students’ voicing their isolation and frustration because they’ve been unable to go on-campus or access resources.

“We know the majority of students taking master’s-level qualifications are just there for one year, so it has affected their whole time in higher education. However, most taught postgraduates were still upbeat about their studies. Many comments in the survey made clear how often staff and students worked to connect with each other, support each other, and create a good learning experience. That’s a real positive. It’s not seen to the same extent in every course in every institution, but where it’s happened it has made a real difference.”

Read more: Academic experience suffered this year, undergrad survey suggests

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