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Postgraduate researchers report high anxiety levels


Postgraduate researchers are suffering high levels of anxiety and many want more support, according to new research.

Advance HE’s annual Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) reveals that although more than 80 per cent were positive about their research experience, just over a quarter of postgraduate researchers have considered giving up their studies.

Only 14 per cent of the 50,000 respondents to the survey reported low levels of anxiety. This compares with the 41 per cent of the general population indicating low anxiety to an Office for National Statistics survey in May this year.

In other measures of wellbeing, PGRs also reported less positively when compared with the UK general population. Some 23 per cent of PGRs said they were satisfied with life, compared to 31 per cent of the population. There was a similar gap in the happiness rating.

A report on the findings says that PGRs anxiety levels may be explained by a marked decrease in confidence in completing within timescales: in Year One, 86 per cent were confident they would complete but by Year Five, this had dropped to 74 per cent. Of those with the most extended periods, only 62 per cent were confident of completion.

Despite well-being concerns, 80.6 per cent were positive about their PGR degree experience. Overseas students reported slightly higher levels of satisfaction at 81.3 per cent, boding well for international PGR recruitment.

The greatest motivation for undertaking a PGR study was interest in the subject (41 per cent), a measure that has increased in importance by 6 per cent over the last three years. From a career perspective, the main motivation was academic career prospects (31 per cent) rather than non-academic career prospects (9 per cent).

A new section in this year’s survey gave PGRs the opportunity to provide free text comments on areas for improvement in their experience. Analysis of more than 10,000 of the comments identified the three most cited suggestions for improvement as: Learning support (38 per cent), Working culture and environment (24 per cent) and programme design (23 per cent).

Some 26 per cent of PGRs had at some point considered giving up their studies. However, the main reasons were not always in direct control of institutions, such as ‘health, family or personal problems’ (16 per cent), ‘financial difficulties’ (14 per cent) and ‘difficulty balancing commitments’ (13 per cent).

Jonathan Neves, Advance HE Head of Business Intelligence and Surveys, said: “It’s clear that PRGs are, in the main, really positive about their experience – and that’s very encouraging.

“The levels of anxiety PGRs report is a concern and we are exploring the data further so that the sector has solid evidence to support its enhancement initiatives. This year’s analysis offers good pointers as to where PGRs think improvements could be made.”

More than 100 institutions took part in PRES this year.

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