Some 10,000 full-time undergraduate students studying in the UK responded to the 2021 Student Academic Experience Survey which found 44% reported ‘poor or very poor’ value.
“This report inevitably reflects the perceptions of a student body who have lived through a year like no other”
The finding was a significant leap from the 29% of students with that same perception in 2019.
Among the increased number of students who felt their expectations were not met, 54% said there was too little in-person contact with other students and 51% said there was too little in-person interaction with staff.
“Despite the extraordinary efforts of institutions and staff over the past year in moving to an online offer, and that of students to adapt their learning styles, this report inevitably reflects the perceptions of a student body who have lived through a year like no other in living memory,” Alison Johns, Advance HE chief executive, said.
Johns said that people need to engage and listen “very carefully” to students when building the post-pandemic recovery and shaping the academic experience, using evidence such as the survey.
“We should also very carefully consider how we address the widely different academic experience of ethnic groups and the deeply worrying and rapidly escalating crisis in student mental health. We will continue to work hard with the sector to do this,” Johns said.
The report found that students from England continue to hold the lowest value perceptions but levels are also low among students from Northern Ireland and Wales.
These numbers were also low among international students. Value for money (good or very good value) dropped from 46% in 2020 to 30% in 2021 for EU students and then 43% to 33% for students who came from the rest of the world.
Students cited a number of reasons for the perceived drop in value including tuition fees, volume of in-person contact hours and opportunity to access in-person teaching.
A more positive finding of the survey was that the majority of students – 58% – would still have chosen the same course and institution. However, some 29% had considered leaving higher education with 34% of those giving mental / emotional health as the primary reason.
“This year perhaps more than any other, our joint survey has shown its true worth as a way of capturing students’ real views,” said director of HEPI, Nick Hillman.
“In a year when students and staff have faced unprecedented challenges, there are many salutary findings on issues like value-for-money perceptions and students’ experiences against their original expectations.”
However, the results are not as negative as some might expect, he continued.
“They reflect tremendous resilience, with a majority of students saying they would not change their choice of what and where to study despite all the upheaval. Teaching and learning have continued apace and much of it has evidently been of high quality,” he added.
Responding to the survey, Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK said that it is valuable to hear student views on the past year which he said has been far from the ‘usual’ university experience.
“Significant restrictions have severely limited the in-person teaching, support and non-academic activities that universities have been able to offer – with much provided online instead,” he said.
“It is disappointing – albeit not surprising – to see how the pandemic has shifted views on value for money”
“It is disappointing – albeit not surprising – to see how the pandemic has shifted views on value for money. Universities will reflect on student feedback and continue to adapt and enhance blended learning approaches.”
Jarvis explained that universities remain hopeful that increased amounts of face-to-face teaching and other activities will be possible next year – while ensuring the latest public health advice is followed to keep staff and students safe.
“It is positive to see that students appreciate the efforts of university staff under very challenging circumstances,” said Jarvis
“By implementing Covid-19 safety measures, enhanced digital learning platforms, and additional learning and wellbeing support, universities have done all they can to help students progress and meet their learning outcomes in such a difficult year of rapidly changing government restrictions and public health advice.”